Singles Going Steady

Behold Avril Lavigne, self-styled dragon boi balladeer.
James R. Minchin III

Nelly Furtado
"Say It Right"

Loose (Geffen)

Ten years after Aaliyah's "One in a Million," Timbaland is still using the same heaving synth waves and tricky, Tourettic drum programming, but the rest of the pop world still hasn't caught up. Here, Tim channels early-'90s Peter Gabriel, his rippling bongos and staccato mouth-clicks granting a vaguely Afropop lilt to those pillowy keyboards. There's also a little Eno in the peals of distorto-guitar that bubble up in the coda. With her airy chirp, Furtado sounds like she's singing a duet with a volcano—she can't overpower it, so she lets her voice float lazily over the fires.

The All-American Rejects
"It Ends Tonight"

Off Move Along (Interscope)

These guys are humping the emo zeitgeist for all it's worth, hiding huge, transcendent pop hooks behind MySpace self-involvement and Tyson Ritter's piercing helium yowl. This inevitable breakup power ballad might be their most satisfying bit of formulaic expertise yet: Pro Tooled strings and super-processed acoustic guitars soar slowly upward before exploding into a gloriously meaningless chorus, and those whoa-oh-oh backing vocals just kill. It's about as punk as Def Leppard, and that's not a complaint.

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Avril Lavigne
"Keep Holding On"
Eragon soundtrack (RCA)

The bad news: Avril has all but deadened her bratty mall-punk bite so she can make a piece of blandly inspirational Broadway fluff for the soundtrack to a movie about dragons. Her guitars don't crunch anymore, and she doesn't use her high notes like knives. The good news: This song's string arrangement is a fucking monster, moving from slow wind-chime flourishes on the intro to spinning crescendos on the bridge. With backing like that, anyone can be a convincing Auto-Tuned balladeer, even someone who was meant for better things.

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