NEW YORK (Billboard) - A truly confident woman lets herself be vulnerable at the right time. This is the message that Alicia Keys' latest single exudes, as she lets her guard down and admits that she's incomplete without the man she loves. From afar, it seems I had it all, Keys belts on the midtempo track's chorus, but it doesn't mean anything since you're gone. It's not the first time she's wrought inspiration from love-stricken lyrics. In fact, Doesn't Mean a Thing is just the latest addition to a lengthy list of her empowering tracks, and it can easily be compared to previous hits like Wonder Woman and No One. But the comparisons are more than welcome, because -- as Keys understands so well -- everyone needs love, no matter how independent they may be.



American Idol winner Kris Allen has wisely chosen to scrap his Kara DioGuardi-penned coronation song, No Boundaries, in favor of this impressive new single about seizing the day. Live Like We're Dying originally was intended for Irish band the Script, but Allen improves on the unreleased version with a nuanced vocal and a nimble, rhythmic delivery. The tongue-twister verses work in spite of themselves, and even when Allen does his best Bob Dylan impression on the bridge, he emerges safely on the other side. It seems Allen is still emboldened by the risks he took on Idol, and those who voted for the singer-songwriter in May should be feeling the same after hearing the first track from his November 17 debut.


SINGLE: BABY BY ME (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope Records)

On the heels of Ghostface Killah and Raheem DeVaughn's Baby, 50 Cent's Baby by Me is another shout-out to lucrative childbearing, as the pragmatic Queens rapper offers a woman the chance to have a baby by me, baby, be a millionaire. This is 50's fourth try at a lead single for Before I Self Destruct, now set for release November 17. With its club synthesizers and Ne-Yo-aided chorus, the track is far more radio-friendly than his past attempts. But it's also the least distinctive. A song like Baby by Me that overtly reaches for a pop audience may put 50 Cent back on the airwaves, but it won't necessarily energize the rapper's core fans. At this point, they might be more receptive to hearing something outside the box.


SINGLE: HOME AGAIN (Rhino Records)

Home Again, the new single from Queensryche's powerful American Soldier album, could recapture the mainstream glory that the band achieved with its 1991 dream ballad, Silent Lucidity. The lyrics -- an exchange between a military man and his daughter, who miss each other -- are sung by frontman Geoff Tate and his own 10-year-old daughter, Emily, who gives a rich vocal performance for her age. In less capable hands, the interpretation would have felt overdramatic; instead, profound sadness and hope intermingle among wavering guitar lines, gritty drum beats and gliding strings. The universal theme of separation from a loved one pairs well with the melody, which flows like soothing water over a wound. Home Again -- and Queensryche -- rightfully command a strong radio salute.