Paloma Faith, "Fall to Grace" (Epic)
Faith has a great voice -- a little higher and more trembly than Adele's, a little more polished than Amy Winehouse's. It's memorable enough to land her an entry in "The Next Adele" sweepstakes, though sometimes "Fall to Grace," her second album, falls flat. The fault lies in clumsy lyrics and poorly formed songs. These shortcomings can be maddening, especially on "Freedom," where promising, soulful verses get wasted on a cheese-ball chorus, and on "Agony," where she ruins a lovely opening by galloping off like the Killers on "Mr. Brightside" in the chorus. Someone, please write Faith more songs like "Let Your Love Walk In," songs worthy of her voice.
GLENN GAMBOA, NEWSDAY
Scott Walker, "Bish Bosch" (4AD)
This album takes its name in part from Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th-century Dutchman known for his phantasmagorical paintings -- an apt reference point for this willfully inaccessible, darkly obfuscating album. Walker, an American revered in Britain since his hits with the Walker Brothers in the mid-'60s ("The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore"), still has a dramatic baritone at age 69, but he's using it not as a romantic crooner but as an oracle from hellish depths. The music is an industrial blend of synthesizer squeals, abrasive guitar bursts, and martial drum crashes, punctuated by ominous quiet. Walker doesn't sing so much as intone the fragmented images, by turns poetic, scatological and arcane.
STEVE KLINGE, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
The Game, "Jesus Piece" (Interscope)
When Kendrick Lamar was anointed the savior of L.A. hip-hop this year, the Compton rapper's promotion implicitly unseated The Game, whose 2005 major-label debut, "The Documentary," attracted much of the same acclaim. A savvy assessor of hip-hop's shifting power structure, Game hasn't blocked Lamar's ascent; in fact, the younger MC's voice is one of the first you hear on Game's underrated 2011 disc, "The R.E.D. Album." Yet his success appears to have galvanized Game, who spends his new record pondering the gangsta's paradigm with a Lamar-like eye toward faith and family. At its best, "Jesus Piece" thoughtfully embodies that duality, as in "Ali Bomaye" (with Rick Ross) and the brooding "Heaven's Arms." Game makes a better villain than he does a good guy, however, and on this often-earnest album he seems hard-pressed to accept that.
MIKAEL WOOD, LOS ANGELES TIMES