Boys Like Girls -- Crazy World

  • Boys Like Girls are a throwback to the bands of the early 2000s, when 8th-graders thought that Taking Back Sunday was cool. The Andover "pop punk" group released their third album Crazy World after a three-year studio hiatus, a gap which only they realize: Lead singer Martin Johnson sneers "You smell that? Smells like Boys Like Girls is back" on "Life of the Party" like they're Jack's Mannequin coming back for a reunion tour. The band's power chord songs laced with yearning vocal yelps are completely generic, though they pull some of them off with such tight musicianship that you don't really want to criticize. Blistering, fun pop tunes like "Red Cup, Hands Up, Long Brown Hair" are the exception, not the rule, as bloated lamentations like the unintentionally funny "Cheated" fill up the track list. Most confusing part of the album: Are they boys that are infatuated with girls, or boys that bear a resemblance to them?

If you had to have three: "Red Cup, Hands Up, Long Brown Hair," "Shoot," "The First Time"

Glee: The Music, Season 4, Volume 1; Glee: The Christmas Album, Volume 3

  • The music's always been the best part of Glee, which admittedly isn't saying much. Everything else on the show is inauthentic and cheesy, but the music numbers are where this cheesiness and lack of authenticity are actually virtues. The soundtrack albums that constantly flood the iTunes store try to recapture this magic without the visuals, to varying degrees of success. The season 4 album has some good covers, like fun.'s "Some Nights," which seems like it was tailor-made for a cappella groups. But other songs, like "Mine" and "New York State of Mind," don't pass the cover song sniff test: What do you offer me that the original song doesn't? The Christmas album is more consistent, as it's more like a traditional Christmas album featuring the superlative voices of the Glee cast. Almost all of them chip in on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and Lea Michele proves once again on "I'll Be Home For Christmas" that she can be as annoying as she wants, as long as she keeps singing like that.

If you had to have three: "Some Nights," "Give Your Heart A Break," "I'll Be Home For Christmas"

Bruno Mars -- Unorthodox Jukebox

  • Bruno Mars has to be the most annoying music act to admit that you like. He has a high voice, his influences are more apparent than his own unique musical identity, and he wears top hats. Yes, "Locked Out Of Heaven" is a blatant Police imitation. Yes, "Natalie" sounds like it could be a sequel to Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana." Yes, Prince is probably already getting YouTube to take down the "Uptown"-sounding "Treasure." But at the end of the day, the songs are all good, and Mars keeps you invested with a taut, 10-song, 36-minute runtime, which is a good change of pace from the filler-heavy, 70-plus minute behemoths that flood the popular music marketplace these days. His voice is way more powerful than "Just The Way You Are" and "Lighters" make it seem, and with songs like the visceral, sloppy "Gorilla," Mars seems to want to break that sissy reputation. One tip: Get rid of the top hats.

If you had to have three: "Locked Out of Heaven," "When I Was Your Man," "Treasure"

Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.