The fall season is always the most active time for pop record releases, as the music industry gears up for its November-December season, during which nearly a third of all records, tapes and CDs are sold. But that can mean confusion for even the most serious music fans, as old favorites compete with newcomers for consumers' attention.
These are the albums expected to generate the most critical and commercial interest of all the post-Labor Day releases during the hectic year-end rush. The selections, presented in alphabetical order, cover all parts of the pop music spectrum, from heavy-metal fathers (Aerosmith) and sons (L.A. Guns) to rap innovators (the D.O.C., Young M.C.); from rock kings on the rebound (Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones) and pop queens living the lush life (Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand) to country chartbusters (Randy Travis) and folkie mavericks (Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked).
The comments are by the Times pop writers indicated, but the star ratings (one is poor, five a classic) sometimes reflect additional pop staff input.
The reviewers are Robert Hilburn, Dennis Hunt, Mike Boehm, Richard Cromelin, Jonathan Gold, Steve Hochman, Connie Johnson, Craig Lee, Kristine McKenna, Randy Lewis, Don Snowden, Chris Willman, Paul Grein, Duff Marlowe and Don Waller.
*** MELISSA ETHERIDGE, "Brave and Crazy,"Island. A far superior effort to its Grammy-nominated predecessor. Bad relationships, Etheridge's lyrical raison d'etre, are dealt with in more interesting (i.e., not just angry or tragic) terms, and the music strikes more major keys and different palettes. (Willman)
*** 1/2 RICKIE LEE JONES, "Flying Cowboys,"Geffen. "When I was young I was a wild, wild one," Jones sings on two different songs. The album, her first in five years, has elements of melancholy and loss, but the awareness of time passed has made her sweeter and more good-tempered. Not as moving as 1981's "Pirates" nor as complex as 1984's "The Magazine," but scarcely less valuable. (Willman)
*** LENNY KRAVITZ, "Let Love Rule,"Virgin. Overflows with enough exhumed peace and love to maybe make even Wavy Gravy choke. For most of the album, Kravitz is knocking off either Lennon or Prince. His shocking derivation would be plenty irritating if he didn't pull it off with such naive nerviness. (Willman)
*** LINDA RONSTADT, "Cry Like a Rainstorm--Howl Like the Wind," Elektra. The material recalls her middle-of-the-rock-road '70s work, but the approach --mostly contemporary ballads written by tunesmiths like Jimmy Webb, drenched in swirling, overbearing orchestral arrangements--is as highly conceptualized as on her last few albums. The presence of angelic-voiced Aaron Neville as duet partner on a third of the 12 cuts is a big plus. See interview. (Willman)
*** 1/2 MICHELLE SHOCKED, "Captain Swing,"PolyGram. In the kind of unexpected stylistic turn typical of Neil Young, Shocked has mostly put her country-folk aside in favor of a big-band blues effort full of horns and electric guitar. Her wry, powerful voice is more than up to the task of making this a full-blown success and not just a novel sidetrack. The more political side of her writing is missed, but gee, this is a blast. (Willman)
** 1/2 TEARS FOR FEARS, "The Seeds of Love,"Mercury. The ivory-flashing English duo is back with an ambitious effort that eschews rampant technology for "organic" band playing. After the opening three songs, even a skeptic might primal-scream in praise of the lads' growth and scope, but the remaining five tracks make any hollering seems a tad premature. (Willman)
**** NEIL YOUNG, "Freedom,"Reprise. An album of minimalistic, expressionistic, mostly just plain raw rock and folk in a down-tempo, pessimistic mode that recalls stark '70s efforts like "Tonight's the Night" more than any mood Young's affected in recent years. Though it's not always easy to grapple with, it may be his best album of the decade. (Willman)
Other albums scheduled for release in the coming weeks include:
ABC, Art of Noise, Basia, Bobby Brown (dance mixes), Club Nouveau, Phil Collins, Erasure, Gipsy Kings, Ofra Haza, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Joan Jett, Quincy Jones, Kid Creole, Kris Kristofferson, Yngwie Malsteem, Roches, Shinehead, Keith Sweat, Tiffany, the Time, Jody Watley (dance mixes), Whitesnake and Peter Wolf.