Fall Preview: Pop Music


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.’ “

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.”

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.

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.


Erykah Badu
Mama’s Gun (Motown Records; October 31) Her debut was hurt by spare production and New Agey high-mindedness, but the live album that followed and its accompanying single (“Tyrone”) lent a self-effacing humor to Erykah Badu’s Afrocentrism. If the smart, funny rhymes she slung on MTV’s Lyricist Lounge show are any indication, her new album could offer just the sort of down-to-earth persona that materialistic, modern R&B needs.

R. Kelly
TP-2.com (Jive; November 11) The cyber slant of the album title indicates a sequel to Kelly’s groundbreaking 12 Play, but it would be hard to measure up to the daring debut that remade R&B’s polite profile in the dirty image of bump ‘n’ grind. If anyone can pull it off, though, it’s Kelly, whose ego and album sales know no bounds.

Now (Columbia; release date to be determined) Maxwell didn’t earn any new fans with his muddled Prince-isms on 1998’s Embrya, but his consistently sold-out, frenzied live shows proved he didn’t lose any, either. In the meantime, he’s kept quiet save for his star turn on last year’s Life soundtrack, so whether he’ll return to the mystical claptrap of Embrya or the more traditional soul of his debut, Urban Hang Suite, is anyone’s guess.

Stankonia (LaFace/Arista; October 31) This Atlanta-based hip-hop duo put the “dirty South” on the map long before labels like Cash Money Records and No Limit, but they’ve never pledged allegiance to the “bounce” sound of their region. Instead, like Parliament and Funkadelic before them, they’ve set out to destroy the boundaries between funk and rock – and country and hip-hop as well. “B.O.B.,” the first single from Stankonia, incorporates hip-hop, heavy metal, drum ‘n’ bass, and even the genre that dare not speak its name – prog rock.

The Wonderful World of You (LaFace/ Arista; November 14) Cringe-inducing Teen Beat-esque album title aside, Usher sings with a confidence and sexuality that can’t be found among his more choreographed peers. Defiantly cocky songs like “Pop Ya Colla” prove that he’ll have no trouble following up on the success of justifiably huge slow jams like “Makes Me Wanna.”

Wu-Tang Clan
The W (Sony; November 7) Hip-hop’s most frustratingly inconsistent supergroup have tried to explain away the faults of their ponderous last album, Wu-Tang Forever, by telling anyone who will listen that they were simply stockpiling their best beats until the world was ready for them. More than three years after Forever, they’re finally going to throw their Tarot cards on the table. Given that Wu-Tang solo projects can be adventurous (Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele), muddled (Raekwon’s Immobilarity), or just plain crazy (Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s N*gga Please), there’s no telling whether they’ll be ready.


Fatboy Slim
Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars (Astralwerks; November 7) The average pop fan might have trouble picking him out of a crowd, but Fatboy Slim has the cultural ubiquity usually reserved for stars like the Backstreet Boys now that his songs have appeared in movies, television commercials, and even political campaigns (Al Gore has used “Praise You”). With a title that alludes to both Oscar Wilde and his ability to keep one foot in celebrity culture and another in clubland, Fatboy Slim continues in the irreverent tradition of You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby, throwing in everything from Macy Gray guest vocals to Jim Morrison samples.

Roni Size/Reprazent
In the Mode (Island Records; October 24) Its flirtation with the mainstream has turned cold, but drum ‘n’ bass might return to the cultural radar via Bristol, UK, producer Roni Size, whose new album features Method Man, the Roots’ Rahzel, and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha.

Various Artists
Tala Matrix (Axiom/Palm; September 19) British D.J. and producer Talvin Singh, who blended drum ‘n’ bass with traditional Indian music on OK, compiled this album of similarly daring tabla-centric beats created by the likes of New York’s Karsh Kale. In keeping with Singh’s emphasis on tradition, master percussionist Zakir Hussain collaborates with young electronic musicians on several tracks.


Regina Carter
Motor City Moments (Verve; September 26) Violinist and bandleader Regina Carter is known for melding R&B with jazz on albums like 1999’s Rhythms of the Heart. Her new project (dedicated to her hometown of Detroit) is even more diverse: She covers everything from the orchestral soul of Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack to the traditional jazz of Milt Jackson.

John McLaughlin
The Believer (Verve; October 3) One of jazz’s proudest fusionists, John McLaughlin has played with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and contributed to the searing funk of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. His latest album, recorded live with the Eastern-flavored jazz group he formed with Indian musicians like tabla master Zakir Hussain, shows he has no sign of slowing down.


Emmylou Harris
Red Dirt Girl (Nonesuch; September 12) Emmylou Harris’s duets with Gram Parsons have become the founding texts of “alternative country,” but she hasn’t been content to ease into iconhood without shaking things up a bit. Though she’s no longer working with Americana restoration specialist Daniel Lanois, producer Malcolm Burn gives her new album – only the second she’s written most of the songs for – the gauzy sound of a haunted honky-tonk.

Various Artists
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Mercury Nashville; November 14) Country’s vanguard (Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss) meets its old guard (Ralph Stanley, the Fairfield Four) on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film of the same name. The results are so strong they were previewed at a May concert at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium that documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker shot for a project of his own.


The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Experience Hendrix (MCA; September 12) He’s always set the pace for posthumous releases (only 2Pac could come close) and this four-CD set – with 56 previously unreleased tracks as well as numerous alternate takes – only helps solidify his lead. Not bad, considering Hendrix’s original studio output consisted of three albums – but it’s also why compilers are digging up dregs like “Title #3.”

Sun Ra
When Angels Speak of Love; The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums: Cymbals & Crystal Spears; Pathways to Unknown Worlds/Friendly Love; Greatest Hits: Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel; Lanquidity (Evidence; September 26) Just as artists from Phish to Sonic Youth grapple with Sun Ra’s enormous legacy, Evidence is reissuing five essential albums (including the two-CD set The Great Lost Sun Ra Albums) from the legendarily spaced-out bandleader, composer, and keyboardist.

Various Artists
The Best of Broadside 1962-1988: Anthems of the American Underground From the Pages of Broadside Magazine (Smithsonian Folkways; September 17) The underground leftist magazine Broadside did more than publish political rants: It helped kick-start the sixties folk movement with a series on Folkways Records that featured Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Phil Ochs. This five-CD boxed set culls 89 songs from that series as well as graphics taken from the original magazine itself.


“A Magic Science: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix”
For two nights, an array of performers that includes Black Rock Coalition founder (and former Living Colour guitarist) Vernon Reid, jazz fusionists Medeski Martin & Wood, and the Gil Evans Orchestra will perform classic songs by the legendary axman at bam. If bam’s 1999 tribute to Prince’s 1999 is any indication, the Hendrix show should blow the doors off the Fort Greene venue. (October 20-21, Howard Gilman Opera House at bam)

The blues-and-gospel-soaked electronic music on Play has made Moby the toast of rock critics, though many dance-music fans have been decidedly less impressed. But both agree that Moby’s live performances – full of sweaty punk theater and ravey euphoria – explode his contradictions. (October 21-22, Hammerstein Ballroom)

Barbra Streisand
For the past few years, Barbra Streisand has practically made a second career out of announcing her retirement from live performance, but she swears that this pair of shows at the Garden will really be her last. Either way, the faithful will surely turn out en masse for the pricey, sentimental affair, which promises to include just about everything from Streisand’s repertoire. (September 27-28, Madison Square Garden)

Fall Preview: Pop Music