What do Garth Brooks, Pearl Jam, Mariah Carey, Keith Sweat, Michael Bolton, Nirvana, k.d. lang, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Barney the Dinosaur all have in common?
It's not how they sound -- these acts share nothing musically. No, it's how they sell. Each has an album due this fall, and every one is expected to crack the Top 20 -- at the very least.
That's why they're all on the recording industry's A-team this fall. Because even though they may not all make great music, each is guaranteed to make a profit. And profits are what the fall album release schedule is all about.
Sorry if that seems cynical, but the simple fact is that fall -- or "pre-Christmas," as the marketing types call it -- is the record business' busiest time of year. Not only is volume waaaay up, but it's one of the few times when big-ticket items like boxed sets sell as briskly as the sale stuff.
No wonder, then, that the major labels start shoveling albums like mad come the first week of September. This year, in fact, they're not even waiting that long, as three of the season's most anticipated titles arrive at record stores Tuesday.
Leading the way is Garth Brooks' sixth album, "In Pieces" (Liberty). Although the album is expected to be even more adventurous musically than his last effort, "The Chase," most of the pre-release publicity focused on his record company's refusal to sell "In Pieces" to any store that sells used CDs -- a policy Brooks whole-heartedly endorsed. And though the label has since relented, it will be interesting to see whether the singer's pro-profits stance has soured many of his fans.
Arriving the same day is "Music Box" (Columbia), the third full-length album from Mariah Carey. Although some critics dismiss her as an artistic lightweight, she's a heavy-hitter on the sales front, and "Dreamlover," the album's first single, is already a fixture in the Top Five.
Finally, Tuesday also marks the recording debut of Barney, the gratingly affectionate purple dinosaur whose videos have made life a living hell for the parents of 4-year-olds everywhere. "Barney's Favorites" (SBK) promises to extend the terror from the TV to the stereo, a process sure to leave those parents wishing their kids were old enough to appreciate less irritating fare. Like, for instance, Metallica.
Barney isn't the only kid-vid character with an album coming this season, by the way. Fortunately, none of the others make even the slightest pretense of being wholesome. After all, Barney would never sing anything with a title like "Don't Whiz on the Electric Fence," but that's just one of the fine songs included on Ren & Stimpy's first album, "Ren & Stimpy Show -- You Eediot!" (Sony Wonder, out Tuesday).
Even less likely to uplift is "The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience, Vol. 1" (Geffen, out Nov. 23), which showcases the musical talents (such as they are) of cable TV's best-known stoners, MTV's Beavis and Butt-Head. Lyrics are rumored to consist largely of "duhnn duhnn duhnnn!" and "huh-huh, huh-huh, huh-huh."
There's also an as-yet-untitled Guns N' Roses album slated for the same day (also from Geffen). Unlike the last time, which saw the simultaneous release of the two "Use Your Illusion" albums, this project will be restricted to a single disc, suggesting that the band has either slowed down, or found another outlet for its excess songs. (Wait a sec -- you don't think . . . ?)
Is Seattle still America's most important rock and roll city? Probably not, but that has hardly diminished industry expectations for coming albums from Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Nirvana's "In Utero" (Geffen, Sept. 14) will arrive first, and despite a well-publicized squabble between the band, label chiefs and producer Steve Albini over the album's relative commerciality, the pre-release buzz says the new songs are tuneful and accessible. Pearl Jam follows a month later with "five against one" (Epic, Oct. 19), which is reputed to be leaner, louder and more exciting than its predecessor.
Also due in from the espresso capital of North America is a Soundgarden spin-off called Hater, with "Hater" (A&M;, Sept. 21); the major-label bow by grunge legends the Melvins, "Houdini" (Atlantic, Sept. 21); and a rap compilation produced by Sir Mix-a-Lot entitled "Seattle . . . The Dark Side" (Rhyme Cartel/American, Aug. 31).
What other alternative offerings are there? Start with the Breeders' first full album since losing Tanya Donnely to Belly, called "Last Splash" (4AD/Elektra, Aug. 31). Then look for Iggy Pop's "American Caesar" (Virgin, Sept. 7), which includes the funniest rewrite yet of "Louie Louie"; Big Star's "reunion" album, "Columbia: Live at Missouri University, 4/25/93" (Zoo, Sept. 14); and Curve's sophomore effort, "Cuckoo" (Charisma, Sept. 21).
In October, look for Kate Bush's ultra-anticipated "The Red Shoes" (Columbia); the Afghan Whigs' crunchy and idiosyncratic Gentlemen" (Elektra); the Cocteau Twins' effervescent "Four Calendar Cafe" (4AD/Capitol); and James' Brian Eno-produced "Laid" (Polydor, all Oct. 5). There's also a collection of P.J. Harvey demo recordings due (Island, Oct. 19), Teenage Fanclub's third album, "13" (Geffen, Oct. 26), and the original Velvet Underground's first album in 25 years, "Live MCMXCIII" (Sire, Oct. 26).
Finally, we should note that the Cure has not one but two live albums coming. First is "Show" (Elektra, Sept. 21), which accompanies the concert film "Show" (opening Sept. 10 at the Charles); then comes "Paris" (Elektra, Oct. 26), which documents a show in (duh!) Paris. And U2 is slated to release yet another title this year -- an EP incongruously called "The Remix Album" (Island, Nov. 23).
Rap and R&B;
Alternative rock may get most of the media attention, but the big breakthrough on radio this year has been hardcore rap. Two years ago, N.W.A.'s Dr. Dre was considered an incorrigible; now, thanks to the multi-platinum "The Chronic," he's a Top 20 staple. Snoop Doggy Dogg, whose laconic raps grace both of Dre's hit singles, "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" and "Dre Day," is expected to do just as well with his album, "Doggy Style" (Interscope/Death Row, Sept. 21).
Can D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince maintain street credibility without threatening the Prince's made-for-TV image? Find out with "Shadow Dreams" (Jive, Sept 14). Will De La Soul be able to maintain the rep they earned with "3 Feet High and Rising"? Wait for "Bahloone Mind State" (Tommy Boy, Sept. 21) and see. Can Shaquille O'Neal rap as well as he plays basketball? Odds are we'll know when "Shaq Diesel" (Jive, Oct. 26) arrives.
Is there a difference between Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One solo? Hear for yourself with KRS-One's "Return of da Boom-Bap" (Jive, Sept. 28). Now that E and P are no longer MD, are they still worth hearing? Listen to Erick Sermon's "No Pressure" (Def Jam, Sept. 28), and learn. And has the animosity between Easy E and fellow N.W.A. alums Ice Cube and Dr. Dre ended? We'll know when Eazy's as-yet-untitled album finally drops (Oct. 26 from Ruthless/Relativity).
By almost any reckoning, the season's most eagerly awaited R&B; album is Keith Sweat's new one on Elektra. And no wonder, after the success he's had with his last three albums, plus the platinum boost he gave to Silk's debut album. Trouble is, no one as yet knows what the album will be called, or when exactly it's coming (late November seems likely).
Almost as anticipated is Aaron Hall's solo debut, "The Truth" (MCA, Sept. 28). With production by Hall, Hank Shocklee and others, it should show whether the guy from Guy can have hits without having Teddy Riley behind the boards. Other R&B; albums of note include Earth, Wind & Fire's "Millennium" (Reprise, Sept. 14); Jodeci's still-untitled second album (Uptown, Nov. 23); Lisa Stansfield's currently nameless third album (Arista, Oct. 26); remix projects from Mary J. Blige (Uptown, Nov. 9) and Shai (Gasoline Alley, Nov. 23); and, in all likelihood, the sophomore effort from TLC -- no title yet, but expect it to drop in late November.
On the dance front, Ultra Nate makes her play for the big time with the deliriously driving "One Woman's Insanity" (Warner Bros., Oct. 5); the Pet Shop Boys prove it's possible to be both danceable and deep with "Very" (EMI, Oct. 5); Ce Ce Peniston finally releases her second, untitled album (A&M;, Oct. 19); and techno wizard Moby makes his move to the majors with, uh, 'Move" (Elektra, Aug. 31).
Has it ever seemed to you that Prince -- or (irritating,
unpronounceable symbol), as he now prefers to be called -- has something of a split personality? If so, then you'll love his approach to the greatest hits album. Not only is he offering a clean album, "The Hits 1," and a naughty album "The Hits 2," but he's also packaging the two together with a third album of B-sides as "The Hits 3" (Paisley Park, all Sept. 14). And yes, each album includes some previously unreleased material.
What would the fall be without a few pop/rock blockbusters? Much less profitable, that's for sure. So it's no wonder that there are plenty of light-rock heavies with albums in the wings this season.
Daryl Hall feels wild without Oates on the R&B-inflected; "Soul Alone" (Epic, Sept. 7); Belinda Carlisle breaches the credibility gap with "Real" (Virgin, Oct. 5); Ace of Base bring their perky dance pop from Sweden to make the United States a "Happy Nation" (Arista, Oct. 12); Michael Bolton makes amends with "The Critics Are Right!" (just kidding -- there's no title yet, but the album is due Oct. 26 from Columbia); Phil Collins turns on the charm one more time with his seventh solo album (no title, but expected Nov. 2 from Atlantic); and a new one from the queen of movie theme duets, Celine Dion (no title, due sometime in November from Epic).
Speaking of the movies, anyone who noted how well the soundtrack from "Sleepless in Seattle" sold will hardly find it surprising that Warner Bros. is cashing in on that warm feeling with an album of Jimmy Durante oldies, entitled "As Time Goes By" (Oct. 5). Nor is that the season's only nod to nostalgia. Neil Diamond pays homage to his roots with "Up on the Roof: Songs From the Brill Building" (Columbia, Sept. 7), while European Abba-mania arrives on our shores with "Abba Gold" (Polydor, Sept. 14).
Then, of course, there's the re-issue market. Spurred in part by the fact that digital remastering prolongs the life of old recordings (but largely inspired by the low-cost, high-profit side of the oldies market), the re-issue market has become an important component in the fall release schedule. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the boxed set boom, which uses deluxe packaging and tantalizing rarities to get fans to buy music they mostly already own.
Led Zeppelin is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. Although anyone who noticed the improved sound quality found on the group's 1990 box "Led Zeppelin" will be happy to hear that more is on the way, they may want to consult their investment counselors before investing in the 10-CD "The Complete Studio Recordings" (Atlantic, Oct. 19). (There's also a two-disc follow-up to the "Remasters" set, called "Remasters II," due Sept. 21).
Other budget-busting sets include Frank Sinatra's "The Columbia Years: The Complete Recordings" (Columbia, Sept. 28), a 12-CD set boasting a lavish package and a $200 price; a deluxe, 16-disc Ella Fitzgerald set called "The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks" (Verve, sometime in November); a lavish Elvis Presley set entitled "From Nashville to Memphis: The Essential '60s Masters" (RCA, Sept. 28) that includes 19 previously unreleased tracks; and a leather-tooled cowboy collection called "Songs of the West" (Rhino, Oct. 19).
Other reissues of note include the Police set, "Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings" (A&M;, Sept. 28); Paul Simon's career-spanning "1964/1993" (Warner Bros., Sept. 28); Bing Crosby's "Bing! His Legendary Years 1931-1957" (MCA, Sept. 28); the Moody Blues' "Travelogue" (London, Oct. 5); the Band box, "Across the Great Divide" (Capitol, Oct. 19); the supremely soulful "Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding" (Rhino, Nov. 2); an epochal Ornette Coleman collection, "Beauty is a Rare Thing" (Rhino, Nov. 16); and the self-explanatory "101 Greatest Doo Wops of All Time" (Rhino, Nov. 16). Finally, look for two terrific follow-up sets: "Hitsville II: The Motown Singles Collection 1972-1993" (Motown, Oct. 19), and "The Complete Stax/Volt Singles, Vol. 2 1968-1971" (Stax, sometime in November).
Finally, what would the fall be without Christmas albums? We can expect the usual avalanche of Santa songs this year, with some from very high-profile pop stars.
Vince Gill gets under way early with "Let There By Peace on Earth" (MCA, Sept. 14). Hot on his heels is Harry Connick Jr. with "When My Heart Finds Christmas" (Columbia, Sept 21); Gloria Estefan, with "The Christmas Album" (good title, Gloria) (Epic, Sept. 21); Boyz II Men, with "Christmas Interpretations" (Motown, Oct. 5); Aaron Neville, with "Soulful Christmas" (A&M;, Oct. 5); and Alan Jackson, with "Honky Tonk Christmas" (Arista, Oct. 12).
But the one I most look forward to is Carnie and Wendy Wilson's "Hey Santa!" (SBK). Wonder if they ask him to bring them a new career?
ALBUMS TO LOOK FOR:
* Pearl Jam's "five against one" (Epic, Oct. 19). This follow-up to the band's multiplatinum debut is reputed to be leaner, louder and more exciting than its predecessor.
* Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Doggy Style" (Interscope, Sept. 21). Given his performance on Dr. Dre's "The Chronic," Snoop is sure to be rap's new top Dogg.
* Kate Bush's "The Red Shoes" (Columbia, Oct. 5). One of the most talented and idiosyncratic writers in rock, Bush is also one of the least prolific, making this album doubly anticipated.
* Keith Sweat [title unassigned] (Elektra, in Nov.). Sweat may not have invented new jack swing, but this album -- coming on the heels of his work with Silk -- should show how he has perfected it.
* Elvis Presley, "From Nashville to Memphis: The Essential '60s Masters" (RCA, Sept. 28). Just when you thought there was nothing new to be known about Elvis, along comes a set with 19 new tracks and a fresh perspective on his least-appreciated recordings.