After years in misery's ditch, Williams finally put out a happy album, but it's a little more nuanced than its publicity. Songs like "Tears of Joy" and the grinding guitar-rocker "Real Love," show off a singer no longer ill at ease with easy pleasures (although, uncharacteristically, she's suddenly at ease with lyrical cliché) while the Elvis Costello duet "Jailhouse Tears" proves she can even be funny. For all the smiles, there's also plenty of material where the mood darkens. "Circles and X's" and the glorious "Wishes Were Horses" ("If wishes were horses/ I'd have a ranch") get Williams back to longing, territory where she's unrivaled as a writer and unbeatable as a singer. The balance, though, makes this Williams' sweetest album.
Listen to TIME's top 10 albums of 2008:
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