As another soggy winter approaches, so too does the music industry's annual Christmas
marketing blitz. And whether your tastes run toward soothing sugary pop, testosterone-fueled rock or artful hip-hop, there's
bound to be something for you. Here's a sampling of the hottest winter releases coming to a mall near you.
Youth Gone Wild
If Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, then Madonna is surely the Queen. And though Her Highness
will bestow an EP of remixes on her adoring subjects this winter (see below), her hand-picked heir apparent, Britney Spears,
is back with her most ambitious project to date, In the Zone, featuring seven tracks co-written by Spears herself,
contributions from producers Moby and R. Kelly and -- what else? -- a duet with the Material Girl, "Me Against
Elsewhere, American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken released his full-length debut, Measure
of a Man, in October, getting the jump on the show's reigning champ, Ruben Studdard, who's making his late-November
debut with Soulful. Alicia Keys lends her own brand of seductive soul to the holiday season with The Diary of Alicia
Keys, while Canadian-born chanteuse Nelly Furtado takes an acoustic-tinged turn toward seriousness on her sophomore
For those with a taste for pop-punk, Pink (Try This) and Blink-182 (Blink-182)
will try to corner the market, though more mature audiences might prefer the raw, aggressive stylings of ex-Clash frontman
Joe Strummer's bittersweet swan song, Streetcore, or even the frenetic silliness of the Barenaked
Ladies' Everything to Everyone.
Lastly, garage rockers can finally exhale: The Strokes have returned with their long-awaited follow-up
to 2001's Is This It, Room on Fire -- though confused parents might do just as well to buy the White
Stripes' superior Elephant for their angst-ridden teenagers. And while Santa's favorite season offers little
excitement for metalheads -- the pickings are slim this winter, boys -- Maynard James Keenan fans should be satisfied
with his latest offering, A Perfect Circle's joyfully menacing Thirteenth Step.
Tupac Shakur might be as dead as a doornail, like Scrooge's partner Jacob Marley, but he
too will be back for the holidays.
Resurrection, Interscope's latest bid to cash in on 2Pac's mystique, is yet another posthumous collection
of unreleased and retooled rhymes, this time boasting cameos by heavy hitters like Eminem and 50 Cent. That
this latest release will match the standards of 2Pac's 1996 tour de force All Eyez On Me seems doubtful; it's hard
to believe that, seven years after Shakurs death, the vault of unreleased 2Pac material contains anything more than the shoddy
demos featured on past Interscope compilations like 1999's Still I Rise and 2001's Until the End of Time. Still,
as long as the market for from-beyond-the-grave 2Pac memorabilia exists, expect to see more and more new records from the
Once considered the preeminent DJ/MC tandem during raps golden age in the late 80s, Eric B. & Rakim
return this month with a deluxe, two-disc edition of their groundbreaking debut, Paid in Full. Boasting an informative
booklet packed with rare photos and essays by MC Search and Tom Terrell, not to mention a bonus disc stuffed
with illuminating remixes, the new-and-improved Paid in Full promises to be a treat for serious hip-hop historians.
Meanwhile, fans of East Coast hardcore will inevitably flock to DMX's latest, Grand Champ, and the
nation of millions thats been eagerly awaiting Outkast's follow-up to 2000's blockbuster smash Stankonia
can finally celebrate the arrival of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, a two-disc smorgasbord of Southern soul, raunchy
rap and feisty funk that is one of the year's best releases.
Spirit of the Season
No holiday season would be complete without a handful of obligatory Christmas albums, the likes of which
have helped finance plenty of festivity in the homes of those always-reliable sources of good will toward men, Michael
Bolton and Kenny G. Neither has anything new on record-store shelves this year, but shoppers searching for old-fashioned
yuletide crooning shouldn't despair: This month brings the release of Christmas Peace, a two-disc collection of Elvis
Presley's finest holiday recordings, and the soundtrack to the Will Ferrell comedy Elf, a merry
compilation featuring Louis Prima, Ella Fitzgerald and Brian Setzer. Harry Connick Jr. joins the
holiday sweepstakes with his second Christmas concoction, Harry for the Holidays.
'Tis the season for rock-star heavyweights to cash in on their brand names by flooding the market with
reissues, greatest-hits collections and boxed sets, and though shoppers this year will be spared the music industry's nearly
annual attempts to produce the quintessential Jimi Hendrix anthology, more than a few of rocks elder statesmen
will be vying for a spot in your stocking.
For those who couldn't get enough of Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) and Greatest Hits Volume
2 -- and there's no telling how large an audience that might be, since the former remains the best-selling album of all
time -- the Eagles released a two-disc best-of in October, complete with a 48-page booklet featuring photos and track-by-track
analysis by Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Not to be outdone, Bruce Springsteen released a three-disc career
retrospective, The Essential Bruce Springsteen, on Nov. 11, one week before unveiling his latest tour souvenir, the
two-disc Live in Barcelona DVD. Other industry stalwarts releasing hits collections include R.E.M. (In
Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003), Bon Jovi (This Left Feels Right, on which the band reworks its vast
catalogue of smash singles), Tori Amos (Tales of a Librarian), No Doubt (The Singles 1992-2003),
Peter Gabriel (Hit), Tom Jones (Reloaded), Sheryl Crow (The Very Best of Sheryl Crow)
and Robert Plant (Sixty Six to Timbuktu) though fans of the Tall Cool One would be wiser to invest in Led
Zeppelin's superlative live set, How the West Was Won, for a taste of his most vital work.
Meanwhile, American Recordings guru Rick Rubin unleashes Unearthed in November, a five-disc
Johnny Cash boxed set boasting more than four hours of unreleased material (including a collaboration with Joe Strummer
on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song") and a single disc of the Man in Black's greatest hits from the past decade.
Joining Cash in the Decadent Compilations department will be Slayer, the seminal thrash metal act whose four-disc Soundtrack
to the Apocalypse neatly summarizes 21 years of mayhem.
To add more superstar flavor to your holiday, try Let It Be... Naked, the first official release
of the Beatles' 1969 masterpiece as it was originally intended. (Amid the turmoil of the Fab Four's breakup,
legendary producer/murder suspect Phil Spector took the band's sparse, back-to-basics version of the album and loaded
it with lush orchestral backgrounds, much to the chagrin of Paul McCartney.) Finally, Lady Madonna herself teases her rabid
disciples with a November EP, Remixed and Revisited, featuring new takes on fan favorites like "Into the Groove," "Like
a Virgin" and "American Life."
Ryan Adams, Love is Hell, Part 2 (EP); Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress;
Billy Bragg, Must I Paint You a Picture?: The Essential Billy Bragg; Dido, Life For Rent; Ani
Difranco, Educated Guess; Jeff Foxworthy, The Best of Jeff Foxworthy: Double Wide Single Minded;
Godsmack, The Other Side; Josh Groban, Closer; Hoobastank, The Reason; Enrique
Iglesias, Seven; Toby Keith, Shock'n Y'all; Kid Rock, Kid Rock; B.B. King,
B.B. King 4; Jonny Lang, Long Time Coming; Courtney Love, America's Sweetheart; Sarah
McLachlan, Afterglow; Van Morrison, What's Wrong With This Picture?; Pearl Jam, Lost
Dogs: Rarities and B-Sides; Rod Stewart, As Time Goes By... The Great American Song Book: Volume II;
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Come Poop with Me; Bob Weir, The Best of Bob Weir -- Rossiter