Ashlee Simpson -- Autobiography (Geffen): It's hard to hear this and not hear the sound of a dad selling his daughter. Discussing the songs is pointless because they're all sheen and gesture -- faux-revealing lyrics with big guitars simulating personal rock 'n' roll. But it's all fake because anything genuinely personal makes enough listeners uncomfortable to keep a disc from selling multi-millions, and manager/dad Joe Simpson didn't invest in a show on MTV about his second daughter to sell 100,000 units and be a critic's darling.
Van Halen -- The Best of Both Worlds (Warner Bros./Rhino): This two-disc set suggests the Sammy Hagar tracks were better than many thought, though lyrically, he only has two modes -- dully earnest and dumbly smutty. Still, his Van Halen couldn't invent a genre the way the David Lee Roth version of the band invented hair metal.
X -- Make the Music Go Bang! (Elektra/Rhino): The record company didn't call 1997's The Untold Story a greatest-hits collection because it had so many demos and live tracks, but it's vital in a way this album isn't. As is often the case on two-disc sets, the important part of the story is on disc one; disc two collects what was recorded after the shouting was over. Listening to Wild Gift and Under the Big Black Sun are a better way to appreciate this oddly charismatic punk band, whose song shapes are as arresting now as they were the first time around.
Various Artists -- Crunk Classics (TVT): Denying that this collection of party rap is catchy involves letting moral judgments affect musical ones, and complaining that it's all about getting loaded conveniently ignores how much rock 'n' roll, blues and soul is about getting drunk or high. What's dispiriting is how witlessly it advocates the high life. Even a Sammy Hagar double entendre is a step up from "Get F--ked Up."
Elvis Costello -- Kojak Variety (Warner Bros./Rhino): Originally released in 1995, this album of covers finds Costello with impeccable taste, a great band (James Burton, Marc Ribot and Jim Keltner), full of himself and making complacent music. The second disc of largely unreleased material contains the best reason for this reissue to exist. There's a sequence of 10 covers Costello wanted George Jones to consider recording, but rather than send him a tape of the originals, he demo'ed tracks like Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream" and Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," attempting to mimic Jones' style to model the songs. Those versions have some surprising notes and touches, but they're charming because the fan boy comes out in him instead of the self-styled musical renaissance man he has too often fancied himself these days.