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Previewing new albums from Slipknot, Mary J. Blige, Bjork, Brian McKnight, and more.

We're Not In 'Iowa' Anymore

SlipknotFew groups have anything in common with Roadrunner hardcore nonet Slipknot, which, in the three years since emerging from the very definition of the middle of nowhere -- Des Moines, Iowa -- has gone on to establish itself as the reigning act of shock rock.

What's helped win Slipknot that title (which it is sure to retain after the release this week of its second album, "Iowa") more than anything else, and what distinguishes it from just about every other act, is that each member of the band wears a mask. We're not talking sparkly Mexican wrestling masks or rubbery Dick Nixon mugs. The Slipknot get-ups range from the psychotic clown to the bloody mime.

"We are here to wake you up and kill the part of the brain that tells you that you can't," drummer Shawn Crahan (No. 6) says. "It's not about me. It's about what I'm doing for kids. When I walk out onstage, there's 15,000 kids that, to me, represent potential. And I'm here to tell you, to tell them, that no matter what they tell you, no matter what they say, you can be from nowhere and you can break out and become anything you want."

First single "Left Behind" is No. 37 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The group will co-headline the inaugural Pledge of Allegiance tour with System of a Down beginning Sept. 14 in Rosemont, Ill.

'Drama' Queen

BligeMary J. Blige's "No More Drama" (MCA) is her first album since 1999's "Mary," which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The set has already gotten a strong pre-release boost from first single "Family Affair," which is No. 8 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks tally.

"No More Drama" features contributions from a who's who of the urban music world, including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Missy Elliott, Rockwilder, Dr. Dre, the Neptunes, Eve, and Lenny Kravitz.

"This album is a continuation of a turnaround," Blige says. "The 'Mary' album was a clean up. It was about cleaning up around me because I still had debris left around me. And this album? It's about solidifying and moving even further with the things I've learned and the strides I've made."

Hidden Place

BjorkUnlike the extroverted aural landscapes of much of Bjork's past recordings, which have variously embraced dancefloor beats, big-band overtures, and avant-garde gestures, the artist's new Elektra set "Vespertine" is decidedly introverted. Focused yet fragile, it is chamber music in an electronic guise.

"From the beginning, I knew I wanted this album to be the exact opposite of [the 1997 album] 'Homogenic,'" Bjork explains. "That album was so extreme and confrontational. I needed this album to explore what we sound like on the inside. You know, that ecstasy, that euphoric state that happens while whispering."

Aided by collaborators such as experimental electronic duo Matmos, harpist Zeena Parkins, and longtime cohorts Mark Bell, Guy Sigsworth, and Marius de Vries, "Vespertine" includes such highlights as first single "Hidden Place," the erotic, vulnerable "Cocoon," the uplifting "It's Not Up to You," and the hopeful "Unison." A world tour with a 54-piece orchestra and choir runs through early November.

'Super' Singer

Brian McKnightR&B mainstay Brian McKnight returns this week with "Superhero," his latest album for Motown. Although the set features guest spots from 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake, rapper Nate Dogg, and gospel legend Fred Hammond, the set is a showcase for McKnight's many influences. First single "Love of My Life," which is No. 30 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week, hearkens back to the smooth vocal stylings of Marvin Gaye and Prince.

Elsewhere, the title track showcases McKnight's guitar skills on a cut he says was inspired by classic rockers such as the Who and Van Halen. "Don't Know Where to Start" features Nate Dogg and production by Battlecat, while Hammond guests on the gospel-leaning "When Will I See You Again."

"I had a tremendous sense of fun making this album and I didn't get all caught up in the notion of trying to duplicate past hits or necessarily sticking to 'my sound,'" McKnight says. "This time, I said, 'O.K., what can I do to make things more fun? I've got this great support from the label and the fans, what can I do to push things a little?'" McKnight's Sears-sponsored fall tour kicks off Sept. 19 in Cleveland.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include Wu-Tang Clan principal RZA's "Digital Bullet" (In the Paint/Koch); country artist Toby Keith's "Pull My Chain" (DreamWorks); U.K. pop experimentalists Stereolab's "Sound-Dust" (Elektra); modern rock all-star quartet Rival Schools' "United By Fate" (Island); hard rock outfit Puddle of Mudd's "Come Clean" (Flawless/Geffen); singer/songwriter Miranda Lee Richards' "The Herethereafter" (Virgin); Canadian rapper Jelleestone's "Jelleestone 13" (Rex/Warner Bros.); hard rock combo American Head Charge's "The Art of War" (American); shock-rock veterans the Butthole Surfers' "Weird Revolution" (Surfdog/Hollywood); Bone Thugs-N-Harmony rapper Krayzie Bone's "Thug on da Line" (Loud); Squeeze principal Glen Tilbrook's "The Incomplete" (W.A.R.?); singer/songwriter Mark Linkous' latest album under the Sparklehorse moniker, "It's a Wonderful Life" (Capitol); former Byrds leader Roger McGuinn's "Treasures from the Folk Den" (Appleseed); modern rock outfit Nickelback's "Silver Side Up" (Roadrunner); former Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg's debut album with Preston School of Industry, "All This Sounds Gas" (Matador); percussionist Sheila A's "Heaven" (Concord Vista); and groove rock combo Everything's "People Are Moving " (W.A.R.?).

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