Generally speaking, at least where music is concerned, the holiday shopping season really gets going the first week of November.  But with next Tuesday being Election Day and all, and with more emphasis than ever being placed on first-day sales, the record companies are largely shying away from that as a viable release date.  Consequently, this week is beyond crowded.  I advised you all last week not to get complacent; read on to see why that was a fair warning.


The acronym’s a nifty play on those controversial print ads which made their target a pop culture buzz magnet last spring; alas, the thirty-two point letters on the album’s cover akshully stand for Original Music Featured on ‘Gossip Girl’. An entire array of under-the-radar acts fills this collection, although appearances are made by The Kooks, Junkie XL, and current flavors of the week The Ting Tings. Could be fun, could be a sprawling, self-indulgent mess.

His 2004 debut album Get Lifted took the music world by storm, and its twin hits — the crisply cocky “Used to Love U” and the hilariously earnest “Ordinary People” — netted him the Grammy for Best New Artist (he beat out the probably-more-deserving likes of Sugarland, Fall Out Boy, and Keane).  The follow-up record, 2006’s Once Again, managed to move a million-plus copies, but failed to make the same kind of pop culture dent.  Now, with his third album, Evolver, John Legend finds himself at something of a crossroads, as he finds himself questioning whether his throwback style of crooning — which was once so novel and inspired — remains relevant in these times in which Amy Winehouse and others have turned that genre on its ear.  At least for now, Legend seems to be wise to the evolution (see his album’s title, wink, wink) and has called in the cavalry:  Outkast’s Andre 3000 guest stars on the adventurous lead single “Green Light,” and R&B divas Brandy and Estelle both contribute vocals as well.  (Additionally, the Wal-Mart version of Evolver features a cover of U2’s touchstone “Pride (in the Name of Love),” which also appears on a new compilation CD assembled by Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.)

He’s one of rock’s most prolific artists, and he’s following up his strongest album in years — 2007’s Easy Tiger, his most cohesive record since his astonishing 2001 breakthrough Gold — this week with a project that’s said to be even betterCardinology, the tenth album from alt-country icon Ryan Adams (and the third project featuring his band The Cardinals), is teased by the exuberantly melodic lead single “Fix It,” and I see no reason to believe the entire record won’t be smashing.

Who’s got the toughest slog in music these days? Could very well be Scottish power-pop band Snow Patrol, who are currently charged with crafting a worthy successor to an out-of-nowhere fluke smash.


Two years ago, a broadly anthemic third act and an earnest, heart-rending vocal from Gary Lightbody made a brilliant tune called “Chasing Cars” the most entrancing epic U2 never wrote. “Cars” instantly became a beloved favorite of television music supervisors all across the land, and millions of digital singles later, the band is back to take another shot at pleasing the masses. Early word on A Hundred Million Suns, Patrol’s third major-label release, has been strong, even though first single “Take Back the City” has been a non-starter at radio heretofore. Time will tell.

Just ahead of next week’s Switchfoot best-of compilation, the band’s lead singer Jon Foreman offers his third solo project of 2008 with the full-length Limbs and Branches. Foreman opened the year with Fall and Winter, a pair of spare, haunting EPs which traded a large measure of his band’s bombast for a more stripped-down approach; companion efforts Spring and Summer — each of these decidedly sunnier affairs — arrived in late May. Branches contains several standouts from each of the aforementioned sets (“The Cure for Pain” and “Southbound Train” from the former, and “A Mirror is Harder to Hold” from the latter) alongside a host of previously unreleased tracks. And even when the material turns a bit toward the maudlin, Foreman always manages to keep himself in check. He’s a bona-fide keeper.

Following the tragic death from AIDS of their flamboyant leader Freddie Mercury in 1991, it seemed as though those iconic rock gods Queen were done for. But a funny thing happened on the way to obsolescence: the band got even more famous. The smash film Wayne’s World hurtled their all-time classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” back onto the charts, and a Mercury tribute concert held at Wembley Stadium in ’92 (and largely spearheaded by my beloved George Michael) drew more than one billion pairs of eyeballs worldwide. Countless tribute albums and hits collections have kept their platinum status firmly secure, and two years ago, the band’s surviving members — guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor — floated to former Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers the idea of a full-on Queen reunion. Rodgers leapt at the chance, and the fruits of their first collaboration arrive this week in The Cosmos Rocks, the band’s first album of original material in nearly two decades. Though wispy as a cirrus, the project’s lead single “C-lebrity” is a slick slice of grand pop, perfectly in keeping with Queen’s operatic legacy. Methinks Freddie’d be pleased as punch.

Considering the unmitigated disaster that was her first stab at a greatest hits — 1999’s hellishly and unforgivably atrocious All the Way: A Decade of Radio Edits — this has to be viewed as a massive (if still wildly imperfect) improvement.


Once upon a glorious time, I was the biggest fan ever of one Celine Dion. (You can ask Sherry Ann; I used to drive her batshit bonkers playing “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” on an endless loop.) Then she let David Foster lure her into some fresh lite-FM hell, released a series of unlistenable filler-riddled albums, and created one of the most lucrative sideshow acts in the history of Las Vegas, and the bloom tumbled off the rose in dramatic fashion.  On the strength of its terrific title track alone, last year’s Taking Chances was a huge step up (although, contrary to all the ridiculous hype that greeted the album’s release a year ago, which claimed that this was some bold reinvention of her artistry, it wasn’t markedly different from any other of her records, at least not the good ones), and it takes just one glance at the tracklist of Dion’s new two-disc retrospective set My Love: Ultimate Essential Collection for a solid reminder of what all the fuss was about.


As noted at the outset, there are major omissions here — in particular, her marvelous self-titled 1992 album gets heartbreakingly short shrift, with singles “Nothing Broken But My Heart” and “Water From the Moon” failing to make the cut; and don’t even get me started on where in the living hell “Misled” and “Think Twice” are! — but Dion and/or whomever assembled and arranged this twenty-seven track collection managed to get it mostly right. (Although, if the abominable three-minutes-and-change radio mix of “It’s All Coming” appears here instead of the wrenchingly brilliant seven-minute original, I swear to Jesus I’m gonna set fire to it.)

They’ve had twenty-two hit singles in the eight years since their debut smash “Prayin’ for Daylight” broke them through in the summer of 2000 and made them crunchy and pop stars simultaneously. This week, thirteen of the strongest of those tracks — notably the exhilarating “Fast Cars and Freedom”
(easily my favorite of their radio singles) and “Stand,” both of which I’m no end of thrilled
to see in this lineup — are being released as Rascal FlattsGreatest Hits, Vol. 1. Lead singer Gary LeVox owns one of those distinctively twangy voices that doesn’t work on just any type of song, but notwithstanding his band’s unfortunate cover of Tom Cochrane’s 1993 classic “Life is a Highway,” I reckon you’ll find the lion’s share of these tunes to be unqualified winners.

They have but three American top 40 singles — 1989’s gloomy “Lovesong” and 1992’s goofy “Friday I’m in Love,” most recognizably, though I was always partial to their 1987 breakthrough “Just Like Heaven” — to lay claim to, though they are widely credited with helping to kickstart the then-burgeoning alternative movement that swept across the land during the 20th century’s final years. This week, monumentally influential British pioneers The Cure return with their first record in four years, 4:13 Dream. Robert Smith still (thankfully) sings lead, and judging by the singles that have been released ahead of the album, the band’s trademark schizoid approach to making music — sunny and sad, simultaneously! — remains intact.

She makes an electric cameo on the New Kids on the Block’s latest album (on the sizzling “Big Girl Now”), and she’s brilliant on what might just be my favorite single of the fall (“Just Dance,” a high-octane duet with fellow newcomer Colby O’Donis), and finally, Stefani Germanotta — better known now as Lady GaGa — is ready to unleash a full-length album.  The Fame finds Ms. Gaga in full-time party mode — no ponderous emoting to be found here; were that pop music could always be this fun.

The good news: Max Martin and Billy Mann, the wondrous wunderkinds who helped her craft her fabulous 2006 album I’m Not Dead, are back on board. The bad news: Nothing on Pink‘s radical new record Funhouse is as scathingly fun as Dead‘s triumph “U + Ur Hand,” one of the decade’s most crucial pop songs. Now split from her husband, motocross star Carey Hart, Pink delves — at times, waaaay too deeply — into her tangled twist of emotions regarding the relationship and its dissolution on the new album, and while there’s miles of mirth to be mined here — you’ve no doubt gotten the flypaper-sticky chorus of first single “So What” permanently lodged inside your skull, and don’t fail to check out “Bad Influence” — the heavy-handed ballads (never Pink’s forte, even though she can be extremely affecting — “Crystal Ball,” in particular, is a gorgeous stunner) tend to drag the record down substantially. She’s still a knockout, no question, but she’s infinitely more enjoyable when she’s (more or less) happy.

Also noteworthy this week:


  • Legendary country star Reba McEntire gets yet another best-of set, this one a three-disc affair titled simply 50 Greatest Hits. (Starting as it does with her 1985 number one smash “How Blue,” it shamefully ignores several of her worthy — and spectacularly hard-to-find — early hits, like “Can’t Even Get the Blues” and “Why Do We Want (What We Know We Can’t Have),” but it’s still a great way to hit the highlights of an extraordinary career.)

  • Country king Toby Keith is back with his strongest single in years, the affecting “She Never Cried in Front of Me,” the lead track from his twelfth album, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy.

  • British pop-punk band Bloc Party unleash their third studio effort, the bold, brash, ironically-titled Intimacy.

  • That unbelievably annoying pop tart Sara Bareilles, the carcass of whose middling debut album has yet to even grow cold, has already commissioned a live record! Get it if you dare: Between the Line:
    Live at the Fillmore

  • The dirty lowdown: back with Speak Low, his first album in five+ years,
    is the legendary Boz Scaggs.

  • With some recent exposure courtesy of the CW, and a recent stint
    as iTunes’ weekly Discovery Download, looks like L.A.-based band
    The 88 are ready for their close-up with their major label debut,
    Not Only… But Also

  • With Mark Ronson at the helm and Lily Allen providing vocals, how could Off With Their Heads, the third record from British breakthroughs Kaiser Chiefs, miss?

  • Their brilliant, dark-hued Everything Starts Where It Ends was a marvel last year; one of the most underrated bands out there right now, Ohio indie rockers Lovedrug, is back with The Sucker Punch Show.

  • His giddy tune “Love Streams” was one of last year’s finest album tracks; Jesse Malin follows it up this week with the covers album
    On Your Sleeve
    , on which he tackles material from the likes of
    Harry Nilsson, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Jim Croce, need I go on…?

  • Her 2005 cover of the little-known Ray Charles gem “Tired of My Tears” forever cemented her place in my list of cherished artists. The sensational Susan Tedeschi heads Back to the River this week to deliver another heapin’ helping of her fabulous soul-drenched blues.

  • And finally, a massive Best Buy exclusive makes landfall this week: a two-DVD, two-CD boxed set chronicling Elton John‘s gorgeously grandiose Las Vegas spectacle The Red Piano.


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