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Fall Preview: Pop Music

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POP & ROCK

Backstreet Boys
Title to be determined (Jive/RCA; November 21) Eminem may have doused some of teen pop's fire by selling millions of albums on the backs of Christina Aguilera and 'N Sync, but Backstreet Boys fans remain rabid enough to keep a video of BSB live clips on the TRL chart for the entire summer. This fall, the group will continue to pursue its monopoly on pop culture with a comic book written by Stan Lee and a new album that's expected to focus on ballads and distance BSB from uptempo imitators like 'N Sync.

Barenaked Ladies
Maroon (Reprise; September 12) Canadian rock's answer to the Kids in the Hall, the Barenaked Ladies have built their career on shticky pop songs like "One Week." Judging from the first single, "Pinch Me," a quiet, plaintive reflection on their mainstream success, Maroon could be the sound of a more mature band. Then again, the song also contains this couplet: "I could hide out under there / I just made you say 'underwear.' "

Björk
Selmasongs (Elektra; September 19) Björk's new album takes its name from the character she plays in Lars von Trier's new film Dancer in the Dark, a working-class girl who escapes her mundane life by dreaming of musicals. So it has plenty of the spooky atmospherics of Homogenic (particularly on a brooding duet with Radiohead's Thom Yorke, "I've Seen It All") as well as high-kicking numbers that would be at home in a forties musical.

Green Day
Warning (Reprise; October 3) When Green Day jumped into the mainstream with 1994's Dookie, they came off as brats gobbing on serious alt-rock acts like Nirvana. Six years later, pop music has regressed to the point where they practically seem like elder statesmen. Even so, their new release should satisfy fans who have had to make due with poppier punk acts like Blink-182.

PJ Harvey
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island Records; October 24) Polly Jean Harvey has been an angry woman in rock (1992's Dry), a larger-than-life female punk (1993's Rid of Me), and a howling bluesman (1995's To Bring You My Love). On her sixth album -- so named because she recorded it in New York and her hometown of Dorset, England -- she veers between purgative rockers like "Big Exit" and the mellower, straight-ahead rock favored by the Pretenders.

Elton John
Elton John: One Night Only -- The Greatest Hits, Live (Universal; release date to be determined) Elton John has been straining his credibility for so long now that it's increasingly difficult to remember why anyone liked him in the first place. This live album full of seventies hits may help the public remember that he wrote some of the best and most uninhibitedly flashy pop songs of the seventies.

Jennifer Lopez
A Passionate Journey (Columbia; November 7) Since the release of On the 6, Jennifer Lopez has kept busy starring in movies (The Cell) and in her own offstage dramas that co-star Sean "Puffy" Combs. For her second foray into music, Lopez has again enlisted wunderkind producer Rodney Jerkins, who is expected to bring back the disco sheen he provided for her smash "If You Had My Love."

Madonna
Music (Warner Bros./Maverick; September 19) On the title track of her new album, Madonna harks back to her days on New York's dance floors, preaching about the power of music to unite the common people and the "bourgeoisie" (did she learn such big words in England?). Even if the sentiment is trite, the production is a deft mix of bouncy electro and vocoder funk. And the accompanying video's parody of flashy playerisms proves she's thankfully less in touch with the spirituality she exploited on Ray of Light.

Marilyn Manson
Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (nothing/Interscope; November 14) After tarting himself up as a would-be glam-rock icon for 1998's Mechanical Animals, Marilyn Manson returns to the Nine Inch Nails-influenced squall of his early, industrial work. But he hasn't abandoned his penchant for controversy: He takes on everything from the post-Columbine exploitation of Generation Y ("Disposable Teens") to the media's maltreatment of rock stars ("Cruci-Fiction in Space").

Ricky Martin
Title to be determined (Columbia; November 14) At last year's MTV Video Music Awards, Chris Rock tellingly compared "Livin' La Vida Loca" to 95 South's novelty Down South hit "Whoot, There It Is." Martin's new album will determine whether he'll be a flavor of the month or the lasting face of Latin music's crossover dreams.

The Offspring
Title to be determined (Columbia; November 14) Like Green Day, these Orange County punk-rockers scored big during the mid-nineties with a three-chord sound and some funny videos. They enjoyed a funnier second act with 1998's Americana, broadly lampooning white wannabe gangstas on "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)." Now that the band's heavy, rhythmic rock has become even more popular than its original sound, the Offspring themselves run the risk of seeming just as ripe for parody as the white hip-hoppers they skewered.

Paul Simon
You're the One (Warner Bros.; October 3) After spending the past decade finding inspiration as far away as South Africa and as nearby as Broadway, Rhymin' Simon is returning with an intimate, personal, and sometimes very funny album that's artfully informed by his experiments with big-band sounds.

Tom Tom Club
The Good the Bad and the Funky (TipTop/Ryko; September 12) Originally a Talking Heads side project from bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, the Tom Tom Club has been one of rock's most important influences on hip-hop and dance music, thanks to the perpetually sampled early hit "Genius of Love." After a detour trying to recapture their old band's glory as the Heads, Weymouth and Frantz have returned to the Tom Tom Club -- and the new-wave funk they've always loved.

U2
All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope; October 31) In the early nineties, the members of U2 transformed themselves from earnest ideologues into tongue-in-cheek meta-stars with cool, distanced albums like Pop. Now U2 has reunited with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, which could signal either a return to the sparer sound of albums like The Joshua Tree or a dearth of new ideas. Either way, the soaring single "Beautiful Day" makes it clear that U2 is veering away from easy irony.

Various Artists
Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska (Sub Pop; November 7) Artists including Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, Ben Harper, and Aimee Mann take on songs from the Boss's 1982 acoustic masterpiece on this ambitious tribute. But don't expect any radical makeovers: Participants have recorded their cover versions on the kind of crackly four-track equipment Springsteen used for the original.


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