R.E.M., Madonna, Streisand among pick of the hits As concert scene cools, season heats up for new album

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Fall ought to be a great season for pop music stay-at-homes -- provided they didn't blow all their money on summertime concerts.

After what appears to have been the highest-grossing summer in music business history, the concert market is almost tapped out. It isn't just that sky-high ticket prices have left fans with less

money to spend on concerts. There just aren't many tours left to spend money on once Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles have passed through.

In fact, apart from Eric Clapton (whose blues revue is due at the USAir Arena Oct. 12), Snoop Doggy Dogg (at the Baltimore Arena Oct. 1) and the eternally touring Grateful Dead (USAir Arena, Oct. 9, 10 and 11), we aren't likely to see much arena-level activity anywhere until sometime next year. Superstar tours, it seems, are strictly summer fare.

So what do we do as the weather gets cool? Head to the CD store, where there will be no shortage of big names in the new-release bins. Among the most anxiously anticipated are albums by R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Tom Petty, Dr. Dre, the Eagles, Barbra Streisand, Lyle Lovett, Nirvana, Van Halen, Michael Jackson and the Un-Ledded duo of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Of course, predicting when all this musical magnificence will descend is a somewhat dicey business. Although record companies are fond of assembling elaborate schedules listing precisely when each new album will hit the street, they're just as fond of changing those carefully planned release dates -- often at the 11th hour. So even though the dates listed below were accurate at press time, there's no guarantee they won't change.

That said, let's focus on the two dates most likely to cause stampedes at the CD shop: Sept. 27 and Nov. 8.

R.E.M. leads the pack on Sept. 27 with "Monster" (Warner Bros.), the band's hardest-rocking release since "Green." Produced by Scott Litt and featuring a vocal cameo by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, the album is both instantly accessible and radically different from recent R.E.M. offerings -- a combination that all but guarantees the album will be among the season's most-played releases.

Even so, "Monster" will probably run neck and neck at the registers with the ultimate Barbra Streisand tour souvenir, "Barbra -- The Concert" (Columbia). Even if the only people who buy a copy are those who saw her or tried to buy tickets, the album is guaranteed to go platinum.

That alone would be enough to make Sept. 27 worth marking on the calendar, but there's more. Lyle Lovett releases his first album since becoming the world's most-envied husband, but National Enquirer readers are bound to be disappointed; "I Love Everybody" (MCA) has songs about "Fat Babies," "Penguins" and "Creeps Like Me," but never mentions Julia Roberts.

Also on the 27th: Love and Rockets return to the fray with the ambient-influenced "Hot Trip to Heaven" (American); Walter Becker demonstrates why Donald Fagen has always done the singing in Steely Dan with "11 Tracks of Whack" (Giant); the Dave Matthews Band proves why its the hottest unknown band in America with "Under the Table and Dreaming" (RCA); the soundtrack to "S.F.W.," a film many in the music business are predicting will be the real "Reality Bites"; and Roger Clinton gets out from his brother's shadow with "Nothing Good Comes Easy" (Rhino).

What do you want to bet most people cut Clinton's title in half?

Things get even more intense on Nov. 8, with not one but two reunions they said would never happen. One of them isn't really news anymore. Considering that the Eagles will by that point have spent almost five months on the road and done its own MTV special, their "Hell Freezes Over" (Geffen) won't exactly come like a bolt from the blue. Still, the nastily incisive "Get Over It" should ensure that the album will sell steadily through the new year.

On the other hand, "No Quarter -- Jimmy Page & Robert Plant -- Un-Ledded" (Atlantic) will seem to some fans like the next best thing to the second coming. Recorded in London, Morocco and Wales, it finds the duo (augmented by bassist Charlie Jones and drummer Michael Lee, plus incidental musicians) recapping a host of Led Zeppelin oldies as well as several new compositions. Like the Eagles album, "Un-Ledded" will debut on MTV (Oct. 12 is the date, in case you want to start programming the VCR), and among the titles due for revision are "Kashmir," "The Battle of Evermore," "Gallows Pole" and "When the Levee Breaks."

A new Led Zep album ought to be a shoo-in at No. 1, right? Maybe. But with a new Pearl Jam album -- "Vitalogy" (Epic) -- out the same day, Page and Plant will have to try harder to avoid being No. 2.

Rounding out that day's new releases are a pair of releases from Woodstock '94 (A&M;); the sophomore effort from soul singer Mary J. Blige (MCA); L.L. Cool J's first new album since 1990's "Mama Said Knock You Out" (Def Jam); and the first solo effort from Eric B's former partner, Rakim (MCA).

Among the superstar offerings is Tom Petty's first album for his new label, "Wildflowers" (Warner Bros., Oct. 11); Madonna's first post-"Erotica" offering, the probably-not-as-naughty "Bedtime Stories" (Sire, Oct. 25); Nirvana's MTV souvenir, "Unplugged in New York" (Geffen, Nov.1); the Black Crowes' we-meant-to-spell-it-that-way "Amorica" (American, Nov. 1); Van Halen's "The Seventh Seal" (Warner Bros., Nov. 22); and an as-yet-untitled offering from Cypress Hill (Columbia, sometime in November).

Naturally, there is a slew of Greatest Hits packages on the way. Perhaps the most interesting would be Michael Jackson's, but at this point his album is only tentatively scheduled for November. Still, there should be plenty of room for best-ofs by Sting (A&M;, Oct. 18); Sade (Epic, Oct. 11); Bon Jovi (Mercury, Oct. 18); Bob Seger (Capitol, Oct. 25); Aerosmith (Geffen, Nov. 1); INXS (Atlantic, Nov. 1) and Bob Dylan (Columbia, sometime in November).

There is also a surprising number of albums in which people play other folks' greatest hits. Perhaps the most elaborate are Luther Vandross' all-covers album "Songs" (Epic, Sept. 20) and Gloria Estefan's similarly focused "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" (Epic, Oct. 18). But there are also quite a few multi-artist tributes on the way, paying homage to George Gershwin ("The Glory of Gershwin," Mercury, Sept. 27); Richard Thompson ("Beat the Retreat," Capitol), Buddy Rich ("Burning for Buddy," Atlantic), and Black Sabbath ("Nativity in Black," Columbia, all Oct. 4); and Lynyrd Skynyrd (the mostly country "Skynyrd Frynds," MCA, Oct 25).

Alternative-music fans ought to watch for Smashing Pumpkins' outtakes and oddities collection, "Pisces Iscariot" (Virgin), and the Cranberries' "No Need to Argue," (Island, both Oct. 4); the London Suede's "dog man star" (Columbia, Oct. 25); and Big Audio's "Higher Power" (Columbia, sometime in November).

Country fans should keep an eye peeled for new albums by Mary Chapin Carpenter ("Stones in the Road," Columbia, Oct. 4), Brooks and Dunn ("Waiting on Sundown," Arista, Sept. 27), and Willie Nelson ("The Healing Hands of Time," SBK, Nov. 1).

And rap fans should save their pennies for "The Main Ingredient" by Pete Rock & C. L. Smooth (Elektra, Oct. 11), "Blowout Comb" by Digable Planets (Pendulum, Oct. 18); and "Murder Was the Case," a soundtrack EP from Dr. Dre (Interscope, probably in October).

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