NEW YORK (Billboard) - Following is a preview of noteworthy releases for the first two months of the year.
Reinvigorated by the rich pop that fueled 2006’s “Magic” and the tour that followed, Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band and producer Brendan O’Brien knocked out “Working on a Dream” in occasional sessions while gigging last year (some featuring late keyboardist Danny Federici and his son Jason). The title track and second single “My Lucky Day” hint that Springsteen and O’Brien are continuing along the big, upbeat path that would sound great live. But the opener “Outlaw Pete” is a slow-burning, eight-minute narrative, while “Good Eye” hints at the swamp-blues sounds Springsteen has occasionally explored on tour.
Franz Ferdinand makes good on its stated desire to produce a “dirty pop” album with “rhythm- and dance-based” songs on its third long-player. Throughout, the Scottish band lets its funky bass lines handle much of the heavy lifting, decorating them with vintage synth melodies straight out of the Genesis or Sparks playbooks. Elsewhere, the band’s cold grooves nod to Wire, Can and “Miss You”-era Rolling Stones. Franz’s first two albums “were very jerky,” frontman Alex Kapranos says. “This one is much more of a swinger.”
“BEFORE I SELF DESTRUCT” (SHADY/INTERSCOPE, FEB. 3)
Originally due late last year, 50 Cent’s latest was bumped to the first quarter to allow him more time to hone tracks with longtime mates Eminem and Dr. Dre. “I have a couple of tracks on there with him. It’s sick,” Eminem says. Dr. Dre’s fingerprints are all over the new single “I Get It In.” “Before I Self Destruct” will be bundled with a full-length feature film of the same name, in which 50 plays a budding basketball star who becomes a criminal after his mother’s murder.
Two and a half years after a key placement on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” helped turn the Fray into a platinum star, the band used another high-profile partnership with the network to introduce the new single “You Found Me” in late November. The track, which has already sold 632,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, stemmed from crises among friends and family that prompted singer Isaac Slade to confront the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. The sound of “The Fray” is “a little more extreme than the last record,” Slade says. “It definitely spreads the spectrum a little bit.”
“I want something that needs to be on someone’s mantle,” Dierks Bentley says of his goal for “Feel That Fire.” “I have a bunch of U2 CDs, and each one has its own little place; it’s not just pump out another record and say, ‘All right, let’s get back to the bus.’” The country artist, who kept his circle of co-writers close on past albums, expanded his horizons by writing with Rodney Crowell, Rivers Rutherford, and Brad and Brett Warren, among others. “It’s not only a chance to write songs, but it’s big-brother mentoring, getting to ask questions about life,” he says. “It’s therapy to some point.”
The jazz trio offers more unique interpretations of pop and rock classics on an album that also features vocals for the first time (from Wendy Lewis). Among the covers given the Bad Plus treatment this time around are Nirvana’s “Lithium,” the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” Heart’s “Barracuda” and Yes’ “Long Distance Runaround.” The album also includes interpretations of pieces by classical composers Igor Stravinsky, Gyorgi Ligeti and Milton Babbitt.
“IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU” (CAPITOL, FEB. 10)
Lily Allen’s sophomore album retains the playful spirit of her star-making 2007 debut, “Alright, Still,” but relocates her from too-cool-for-school hipster pop to somewhere between the dance floor and the real world. Despite songs about God and George W. Bush, it’s still strong, uncontrived pop music. And it sounds stuffed with hits, starting with the lead track, “The Fear.” “I did a retro thing last time,” Allen says. “And since I did that, a lot of other people did it too. I wanted to separate myself from the group and move forward. People think I’ve intentionally done something more serious, but I haven’t.”
The Black Keys vocalist/guitarist is taking time off from his primary band to release and tour behind this solo debut, which he admits is “all over the map. Some of them sound like they could be Black Keys songs. But some songs are just acoustic guitar. There’s some real dark tunes and some psychedelic rumbas.” The album runs the gamut from the sparse, drum-less opener, “Trouble Weighs a Ton,” and the genial acoustic closer, “Goin’ Home,” to raw, swaggering rockers.
The comedy team consisting of “Saturday Night Live” star Andy Samberg and writers Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer draws from its sizable catalog of Internet smash hits for its major-label debut, including “Dick in a Box” with Justin Timberlake, “Iran So Far” with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and “Lazy Sunday.” Also expected to appear are “I’m on a Boat” with T-Pain, “Sax Man” with Jack Black, “Boombox” with the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and “Dream Girl” with Norah Jones.
Saves the Day frontman Chris Conley and Say Anything mastermind Max Bemis join forces on this project, which Bemis says he “wanted to be a little more poetic and little bit less completely verbose.” The album reflects the grandiose pop/punk and emo sounds of both bands and their influences, which Bemis cites as “Sunny Day Real Estate, Smashing Pumpkins and Beatles-y with a Britpop element. Balance is very much so what the plot of the album is about. It’s really about me and Chris’ friendship and how that represents anybody’s friendship, or anybody’s relationship.”
“YEARS OF REFUSAL” (ATTACK/LOST HIGHWAY, FEB. 17)
The first few songs on “Refusal” suggest a more rock-oriented effort in the style of 1992’s “Your Arsenal,” including “All You Need Is Me” and the fired-up “Something Is Squeezing My Skull.” On “Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed,” Morrissey sounds vengeful. The curious “When Last I Spoke to Carol” seems influenced by the cinematic sound of Ennio Morricone, while “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” experiments with samples.
“DARK WAS THE NIGHT” (BEGGARS BANQUET, FEB. 17)
Some of the biggest names in independent music banded together to record exclusive songs for this double-disc album, whose proceeds will benefit the Red Hot organization’s work with AIDS research. In the works since 2006, the project was curated by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner. The lineup includes Spoon, Arcade Fire, Yo La Tengo, the New Pornographers, Cat Power, My Morning Jacket and Iron & Wine. “Dark Was the Night” is also packed with intriguing collaborations, including Feist with Ben Gibbard and Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors with David Byrne, Aaron Dessner with Bon Iver, and Bryce Dessner with Antony.
“THE CENTURY OF SELF” (RICHTER SCALE/JUSTICE, FEB. 17)
The veteran Texas rock band is back on indie turf after three albums for Interscope, and on “The Century of Self,” it has rediscovered the dark, punishing power of its best material. “Pictures of an Only Child” begins as a subdued wash of sound before bursting into a loud, chugging chorus, and the bracing “Far Pavilions” has shouted counterpoint vocals from drummer Jason Reece. “On the last two albums, we were really meticulous, recording to click tracks and doing overdubs,” Keely says. “This time, we threw all that out. We learned the songs and all tracked live.”
Jeremy Enigk returns to the heavier rock sound of Sunny Day Real Estate on his third solo album, recorded outside Barcelona with a group of musicians introduced to Enigk by a mutual friend from Seattle. “These guys are Sunny Day Real Estate fans, and the moment they got their hands on my songs, whether they were mellow or not, they turned them into heavy rockers,” Enigk says. Look for driving tracks like “Late of Camera” and “Find Idea,” alongside “April Storm” (“That’s on a Ryan Adams/‘Love Is Hell’-type of kick,” Enigk says) and the Gram Parsons-inspired “Same Side Imaginary.”