Sustaining a pop career is like storming Normandy Beach on D-Day—all by yourself. Every time artists release some music, they’re besieged by the industry’s equivalent to heavily armed soldiers (i.e. unsympathetic radio programmers, fickle consumers and cutthroat competing artists), all firing bullets that could end their career at any moment.
Never is this peril greater than in the fall. That’s when the heaviest guns come out (i.e., the most starry competition), making the potential for failure that much more common—and public.
Autumn `07 has its own bloody battles in store. 50 Cent and Kanye West will go mano-a-mano on an already loaded day (Sept. 11), releasing their respective third CDs to create a punishing game of compare-and-contrast. Alicia Keys will face the daunting task of topping her excellent first two CDs with a third (out Oct. 23), while Nicole Scherzinger kicks off a potentially ruinous trend for the culture at large by becoming the first Pussycat Doll to purr out a solo CD.
Another nail-biting scenario involves James Blunt, who’ll issue his make-or-break follow-up to his zillion-selling wimp-a-thon, “Back to Bedlam” (which spawned the worldwide terror “You’re Beautiful”). At the same time, stars who’ve been delinquent on the scene for a dangerous spell (from Seal to Annie Lennox to Joni Mitchell) will test the waters with their first works in eons.
Who will survive this fray no one can say. But we can offer a guide to who’s engaged in the fight, divided by plot.
Members of bands trying to show they can make it on their own:
will. i. am “Songs About Girls,” Sept. 25.
The leader of the Black Eyed Peas, and a prolific producer in his own right, puts out his first album as a solo artiste.
Pat Monahan “Last of Seven,” Sept. 18.
The debut from the ruggedly handsome singer of Train.
Nicole Scherzinger “Her Name Is Nicole,” Oct. 16.
The solo debut from the only Pussycat Doll who can kinda sing.
Serj Tankian “Elect the Dead,” Oct. 23.
The singer for System of a Down with his first lone flight. Let’s hope all the songs aren’t about his favorite subject: the persecution of Armenians.
Jordin Sparks. November.
Now standing apart from her “American Idol” competition, this year’s winner will issue her risky debut. She better hope it does better than Taylor Hicks’ first, or Katharine McPhee’s for that matter.
Comebacks from the edge:
Ja Rule “The Mirror,” Sept. 25.
The most vilified man in rap tries to regain his good name with his first CD in three years.
Joni Mitchell “Shine,” Sept. 25.
The legend’s first album of new material in nine years appears on the Starbucks label, a la Paul McCartney’s latest.
Seal “System,” Sept 25.
The husky-voiced singer took time away from model-wife Heidi Klum just long enough to put out his first work in four years.
Chaka Khan “Funk This,” Sept. 25.
The deep-soul diva’s first album in 10 years features production from Jam and Lewis, and guest spots for Mary J. Blige and Michael McDonald.
John Fogerty “Revival,” Oct. 2.
The ex-leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival puts out his first solo album in four years, released on the label he famously battled for decades, Fantasy.
Annie Lennox “Songs of Mass Destruction,” Oct. 2.
The great chanteuse’s first solo album in half a decade—and only her fourth overall. Features guest shots from a full kick-line of pop women, including Madonna, Dido, Bonnie Raitt, Pink, Fergie and KT Tunstall.
Kid Rock “Rock and Roll Jesus,” Oct. 9.
The self-declared white-trash rap-rocker’s first CD of new material in four years.
Backstreet Boys (“Unbreakable”) Oct. 30.
The former boy band’s first .release in three years—and their only one without the manliest member, Kevin Richardson.
Q-Tip “The Renaissance,” Dec. 18.
The endlessly delayed second solo album from the seminal and supertalented New York rapper finally (!) arrives. It’s Q’s first work in eight years.
Superstars struggling to stay on top:
Kenny Chesney “Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates,” Sept. 11.
His second post-Renee Zellweger CD.
50 Cent “Curtis,” Sept. 11.
Fitty’s third official CD, and his first in three years. So far his singles haven’t clicked, so the heat is on.
Kanye West “Graduation,” Sept. 11.
The finale in the Chicago rapper’s trilogy of school-themed CDs.
Babyface “Play-list,” Sept. 18.
An all-covers album from mainstream R&B’s swankiest singer.
Gloria Estefan “90 Millas,” Sept. 18.
Spanish-language odes to her native Cuba, featuring Latin guests like Santana, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Pacheco and more.
Barry Manilow “The Greatest Songs of the `70s,” Sept. 18.
The third in Manilow’s series of hit CDs, which previously covered songs of the `50s and `60s. Also known as “Barry Murders Yet Another Decade’s Hits.”
Foo Fighters “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace,” Sept 25.
Back to hard rock from the guys who recently went (sorta) acoustic.
Bruce Springsteen “Magic,” Oct. 2.
The first album with Bruce and his E Street band since their 9/11-themed work, “The Rising,” five years ago. A return to what manager Jon Landau calls “high-energy rock.”
Santana “Ultimate Santana,” Oct. 16.
A hits disk featuring three new songs that pair the guitar ace with Shakira, Lil Wayne and Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, respectively.
Ashanti “The Declaration,” Oct. 23.
The thin-voiced beauty’s third release.
Alicia Keys “As I Am,” Oct. 23.
The superstar’s latest studio album is also her first in four years.
Up-and-comers who’ve got dibs on a breakout:
Kenna “Make Sure They See My Face,” Sept. 11.
Produced by Chad Hugo of the Neptunes. Kenna opened the NewJersey Live Earth show, giving him instant exposure to billions. Or at least multi-millions.
Eskimo Joe “Black Fingernails, Red Wine,” Sept. 25.
Australia’s No. 1 band tries to become the next Men at Work.
Iron and Wine “The Shepherd’s Dog,” Sept. 25.
Following their breakout on the hit soundtrack to “Garden State,” these guys could be the next indie-pop band to hit big, a la Arcade Fire, Spoon and The Shins.
J. Holiday “Back of My `Lac,” Oct. 2.
A new R&B singer who already has a hot hit single with “Bed.”
Potential one-hit-wonders going for number two:
James Blunt “All the Lost Souls,” Sept 18.
The first single is titled “1973,” which says a lot about the company, and era, Blunt wants to keep.
Chamillionaire “Ultimate Victory,” Sept. 18.
Features no N, B or P words. What fun could that be?
Keyshia Cole “Just Like You,” Sept 18.
The best breakout R&B singer in recent years tries to live up to her terrific debut.
KT Tunstall “Drastic Fantastic,” Sept. 18.
The Scottish singer gets rockier this time.
Rick Ross “Miami Taking Over,” Sept. 25.
The hit Florida rapper, back for more.
Chris Brown “Exclusive,” Oct. 30.
The followup from R&B’s most-scream-inducing teen dream.
Lupe Fiasco “The Cool,” Oct. 30.
An encore from the innovative rapper.
Carrie Underwood (Title still to come) Oct. 30.
The sophomore work from the biggest country “American Idol.” Her debut sold more than 5 million copies.
Amy Winehouse “Frank,” Nov. 13.
An unearthed, earlier CD that’s coming out now to exploit her fame.
Cult hipsters who preach to the converted and do what they want:
Chris and Rich Robinson “Brothers of a Feather,” Sept. 4.
A collaboration between the sibling front men of the Black Crowes.
Joe Henry “Civilians,” Sept. 11.
The brilliant latest CD from one of the world’s most respected producers.
Hot Hot Heat “Happiness Ltd.,” Sept 11
Doyle Bramhall “Is It News,” Sept 18.
The ace second guitarist in Eric Clapton’s band puts out a solo CD.
Mark Knopfler “Kill to Get Crimson,” Sept. 18.
Angie Stone “The Art of Love and War,” Sept. 18.
The excellent R&B singer (and ex-girlfriend of D’Angelo) returns on the revived, and revered, Stax Records.
Twista “Adrenaline Rush 2007,” Sept. 18.
The fastest rapper on the planet returns.
Devendra Banhart “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon,” Sept. 25.
The king of freak folk hopes to retain his quirky crown.
Steve Earle “Washington Square Serenade,” Sept. 25.
An ode to the city, with a political twist, no doubt.
Herbie Hancock’s tribute to Joni Mitchell “River/The Joni Letters,” Sept. 25.
Features Mitchell herself, Leonard Cohen, Corrine Bailey Rae and Tina Turner covering the Mitchell cannon.
P.J. Harvey “Wolves,” Sept. 25.
The avant-gardist’s first in three years.
“Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino,” Sept. 25.
Features Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Robert Plant, Tom Petty, Norah Jones and Willie Nelson on the legend’s classics.
Wayne Wonder “Foreva,” Sept. 25.
The Caribbean star returns.
Bettye Lavette “Scene of the Crime,” Sept. 25.
While her fantastic comeback CD matched the soul great to songs written by smart women, this time she takes on pieces penned by men, from John Hiatt to Elton John.
Queen Latifah “Trav’lin Light,” Sept. 25.
Not rap. It’s jazz standards, like the last one.
Deborah Harry “Necessary Evil,” Sept. 25.
The ex-Blondie’s first solo album in 14 (!) years.
David Banner “Greatest Story Ever Told,” Oct. 9.
The new one from the respected Southern rapper who just bolted from the “Rock the Bells” tour without explanation.
Dan Wilson “Free Life,” Oct. 16.
The former leader of the criminally underrated band Semisonic, and a writer of the Dixie Chicks’ recent hits, puts out his solo debut.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss “Raising Sand,” Oct. 23.
The former Led Zeppelin singer and the country mainstay form a unique tete-a-tete.
Dave Gahan “Hourglass,” Oct. 23.
The second solo album from the bosso profundo singer of Depeche Mode.
Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bollocks,” Oct. 23.
A commemorative package celebrating 30 years since the seminal punk album appalled the world. What makes it commemorative? Does it come with its own vintage syringe?
// Notes from the Road
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