AC/DC, "Black Ice" (Columbia)

The success of an AC/DC album can be determined by one question: How good are the riffs? The answer here is: pretty darned good. For this disc, available exclusively at Wal-Mart, the Australian rockers rarely skimp on gut-churning guitars, from Angus Young's depilatory solo on album opener "Rock 'N Roll Train" to the bristling riff on "Spoilin' for a Fight." The album is front-loaded with the best tunes: Young and his older brother, Malcolm, keep a tight rein on the brawny unison riff that sweeps through the chorus of "Skies on Fire," and Angus plays as fiery a solo as he ever has. Gravel-voiced singer Brian Johnson unleashes his leathery yowl on the stick-in-your-head refrain to "Big Jack," and growls with menace on "War Machine." This is AC/DC's first new album since 2000, and the lengthy track list seems like an attempt to make up for lost time. It's an understandable impulse, but misguided: While "Black Ice" is a good album at 15 songs and 55 minutes, leaving off a few lesser tracks -- "She Likes Rock 'N Roll" or the ballad "Rock 'N Roll Dream," for example -- might have helped make it a great one.


Ben Folds, "Way to Normal" (Sony)

As a songwriter Folds is an omnivore, utilizing a number of different styles, from the linear narrative to more abstract musings. But they often fall under two umbrella types: the heartbreaking, melancholic confessor of personal ballads ("Brick") and the comic, sarcastic observer of upbeat rockers ("Underground"). On his third solo album, the latter gets more attention than usual.

While Folds has antic down to an art, "Way to Normal" sometimes wilts a bit under the weight of that jittery, borderline venomous energy, spilling into an angry place that may be honest but can be discomfiting. "Normal" is at its best when it juggles dark and light, as the single "You Don't Know Me" does brilliantly. Folds breaks down a relationship's demise in a manner that is lyrically agonizing but musically playful. "We were the cliché, but we carried on anyway," he sings of longtime lovers smacked in the face with their own willful ignorance of each other. Regina Spektor offers hand-in-quirky-hand harmonies while sunbursts of choir vocals reinforce the song's "eureka" moment. It is the kind of sad/playful juxtaposition Folds plays to perfection.



"Kellie Pickler" (19/BNA)

The former "American Idol" finalist stretches out in her sophomore effort, co-writing half of the 10 songs. There are moments of accomplishment, but the album is like a Whitman Sampler, with a sweet tidbit for listeners in pretty much any stage of a romantic relationship, leading to a fairly scattered emotional palette. The prevailing attitude is "Don't get mad, get even" with guys who bail or girls who steal guys. The standout is "Best Days of Your Life," which she wrote with Taylor Swift, who sings harmonies too, taunting an ex about how he'll regret leaving. "I'm Your Woman" is pure Shania Twain, and "One Last Time" is a farewell that yearns to be Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" when it grows up.