Rated R by Rihanna The fashion-forward Bahamian beauty has been criticized for releasing a dark ballad as the first single ("Russian Roulette") from her fourth album instead of a club-thumper like "Umbrella." Rihanna should listen to her collaborator Jay-Z and just brush the criticism off her shoulder — this pop star is no one-dimensional confection; she wanted to express the pain and confusion she's been going through since the Chris Brown "incident," and it comes through clearly with songs like "Russian Roulette" and the heartbreaking "Stupid in Love." Doing a Good Girl Gone Bad, Part II would not have made sense; Rihanna has aspirations to be an artist. Rated R leads her in that direction. Out Monday.

The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga Thanks to Rihanna and Ms. Gaga, it's a thrilling time for pop music. Gaga's eight-song follow-up to the platinum-selling The Fame is the same undeniable dance music that everyone — even straight guys — finds impossible to resist. Lead single "Bad Romance" is like caffeine for the soul, and the video is the best three-minute musical film since "Express Yourself." It's now undeniably clear who Madonna's heir apparent is. Released Monday.

I Dreamed a Dream by Susan Boyle Speaking of Madonna, she gets covered on the British sensation's new album — "You'll See" gets the crystalline Boyle treatment. The voice of the formerly dowdy 48-year-old is phenomenal; even when she sings the Rolling Stones classic "Wild Horses," you believe it, even though the haunting ballad is about heroin abuse. Other covers include "Daydream Believer" and "Silent Night." There's also an original song: "Who I Was Born to Be." Released Monday.

Other Monday CD releases (not on Tuesdays as usual, because of the Thanksgiving holiday) include She Wolf by Shakira and Adam Lambert's For Your Entertainment (if you can get past that album cover). And available now for download is "I'm the Shit," the first single by BeBe Zahara Benet, winner of RuPaul's Drag Race.