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TERRY GROSS, host:

Rock critic Ken Tucker has been listening to a lot of new albums that don't quite stand up as collections of songs. But, he says, the singles from some of these albums are worth paying attention to. Here's his roundup of a trio of new songs.

(Soundbite of song "Crush")

KEN TUCKER: I've finally found a way to enjoy American Idol and its spawn just a little bit, when one of its rejects puts out a good single. It almost goes without saying that former contestants ranging from Carrie Underwood to the human puppy dog David Archuleta, can't sustain their modest talents over the course of an entire album. But with the help of Super Slick Production and a small army of songwriters, sometimes a bit of fragile pleasure can be brought to birth. To frame this argument in the past, think of the entirely manufactured Archies and their great 1969 single "Sugar, Sugar." On his new single, David Archuleta continues to sing in a chalky tenor. You can almost see him squinching his eyes to keep from tearing up over the unrequited love in a song called "Crush."

(Soundbite of song "Crush")

Mr. DAVID ARCHULETA: (Singing) Do you catch a breath when I look at you. Are you holding back like the way I do. 'Cause I'm trying, trying to walk away. But I know this crush ain't goin' away, goin' away. Has it ever crossed your mind…

TUCKER: Over the past decade, the economy of the music industry has shifted to an emphasis on hit singles. People fill up their iPods with them, and a big segment of the audience consumes music differently. A song heard on a TV show or in a commercial is as effective a showcase as seeing someone perform on a talk show or on a cable music channel. One result is that, like so much for the rest of the economy, stars have less job security. Instead of crafting an album with a dozen songs designed to yield a succession of hits, pop and hip-hop albums are more often assembled like country albums have been for years. A few hopefully huge hits surrounded by filler. That's the case with the new album by Pink, a singer and songwriter I like quite a bit. Her album "Funhouse" is pretty uneven, but her single, "So What," packs a wallop.

(Soundbite of song "So What")

Ms. PINK : (Singing) Na na na na na na, Na na na na na, Na na na na na na, Na na na na na. I guess I just lost my husband. I don't know where he went. So I'm gonna drink my money. I'm not gonna pay his rent. I've got a brand new attitude, and I'm gonna wear it tonight. I'm gonna get in trouble. I wanna start a fight. Na na na na na na. I wanna start a fight. Na na na na na na. I wanna start a fight. So, so what? I'm still a rock star. I got my rock moves, and I don't need you. And guess what? I'm having more fun. And now that we're done, I'm gonna show you tonight. I'm alright. I'm just fine. And you're a tool. So, so what? I am a rock star. I got my rock moves, and I don't want you tonight.

TUCKER: Pink's hoarse rock voice is perfectly suited to that song's defiance, in which the narrator talks about leaving a bad marriage and feeling up for a fight. It bursts at the chorus. She bellows, I'm a rock star. I got my rock moves, and I don't need you. She doesn't really mean you. You she does need to download her song and make it your ring tone.

Another pop diva, Beyonce Knowles, has a new release. It's a double album called, "I Am Sasha Fierce." It's built around the idea that the singer/actress/dancer has a wild gal alter ego. This isn't anything new, hello, David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. But if it frees her up to occasionally abandon the extravagant ballads for a thumping vehement bolt of energy like this, well, hello, Sasha Fierce.

(Soundbite of song "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)")

Ms. BEYONCE KNOWLES : (Singing) All the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies. Now put your hands up. Up in the club, we just broke up. I'm doing my own little thing. You decided to dip, and not get on the trip, 'cause another brother noticed me. I'm up on him, he's up on me. Don't pay him any attention. That's cried my tears, for three good years. You can't get mad at me, 'cause if you like it then you should have put a ring on it. If you like it then you should have put a ring on it. Don't be mad once you see that he want it. If you like it then you should have put a ring on it. Oh. If you like it then you should have put a ring on it. If you like it then you should have put a ring on it.

TUCKER: That song called, "Single Ladies," with the parenthetical subtitle, "Put a Ring on It," is an immediate must-add for my best singles of the year list. The grinningly sneery chorus, if you like it then you should have put a ring on it, is a perfect pop touch, updating the now-old dating advice book, "The Rules" and making that recent "Sex in the City" movie instantly disposable. Of course, disposable is the word know-nothings is used to dismiss far too much pleasurable pop music like Beyonce or Pink songs. It's a new music world where the ephemeral takes on fresh urgency. We may not hold singles in our hands and ponder them for hours the way we did with vinyl album covers, but that doesn't mean their rewards can't be as satisfying.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for "Entertainment Weekly." He reviewed new singles by David Archuleta, Pink and Beyonce. You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org.

(Soundbite of song "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)")

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) If you like it then you should have put a ring on it. If you like it then you should put a ring on it. If you like it then you should put a ring on it. Don't be mad once you see that he want it. If you like it then you should have put a ring on it.

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