A Record Crop of Fall Albums : Guns N' Roses, Michael Jackson, U2 Top Season's List

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Music fans, warm up your credit cards: The fall album release schedule is shaping up into one of the strongest in years, with new recordings due from some of the top names in the business.

Guns N' Roses' unprecedented simultaneous release of two separate albums and long-awaited albums from Michael Jackson and U2 head the list, a well-rounded roster of rock, pop, R&B;, country and rap star product. The pre-Christmas buying season is traditionally the time when the record companies trot out their big guns, but this year may be among the most promising of recent years.

Bob Feterl, regional manager of the Tower Records chain's Los Angeles branches, says that the timing couldn't be better, considering the slowed industry-wide sales of recent months due to the economic slump. That forecast should warm the hearts of harried retailers, as albums by these artists seem sure bets to automatically zoom to the top of the Billboard chart.

Jackson's "Dangerous" has no release date yet but is expected to be out in late October. For the first time in a decade, Quincy Jones isn't producing a Michael Jackson album. Jackson, who led the production team himself, wrote most of the songs on the album, his first since 1987's "Bad," which sold 7 million in the U.S. and 24 million worldwide.

Guns N' Roses' ballyhooed double release--"Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II"--is due Sept. 17, the two separately packaged albums totaling 30 songs. It's the group's first album since 1988's "GNR Lies," which, combining old material and several new recordings, was more of an EP than real album. Both that and the group's first album, 1987's "Appetite for Destruction," have sold a combined total of 17 million worldwide.

U2's "Achtung Baby," partly recorded in Berlin, will be released the third week in October. The group's first studio album in four years is reportedly mostly rock 'n' roll-toned, with at least one dance-oriented number, "Mysterious Way." U2 will begin a U.S. tour in late winter.

Here's the best of the rest--albums that are virtually sure-fire Top 10 and potential million-sellers--listed in order of scheduled release date:

* Garth Brooks (Capitol, Sept. 10). In the past year, Brooks has emerged as the biggest-selling artist in country music. He wrote or co-wrote eight of the the songs on his third album, "Ropin' the Wind."

* Mariah Carey (Sony, Sept. 17). "Emotions" is the follow-up to her 1991 Grammy-winning debut "Mariah Carey," which was loaded with Top 10 singles and has sold more than 5 million copies. It's surprising that a new album is coming out now since the first one is still in the Top 20. Assessment by Tower's Feterl of Carey, who's frequently dubbed a younger version of Whitney Houston: "This could be a big album, but she may be hit by the sophomore jinx."

* 2 Live Crew (Luke, Sept. 17). "Sports Weekend," by the best-known of the raunchy rap outfits, will get instant attention thanks to the controversy and legal action that surrounded 1989's "As Nasty as They Wanna Be," even with rap styles changing so quickly and many artists fading after one hit record.

* Prince (Paisley Park, Sept. 17). His "Diamonds and Pearls" should be instant Top 10 because his loyal, cult following guarantees immediate sales of a few hundred thousand. But the album's longevity depends on hit singles. Of the Purple One's last several albums, only "Batman" has been a blockbuster.

* Barbra Streisand (Columbia, Sept. 24). Her four-CD set, "Just for the Record . . . ," featuring greatest hits and previously unreleased tracks, will easily be the fall's most popular CD-retrospective package. Given the current rich adult-pop market, as shown in the No. 1 success of Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable," this could be one of the year's biggest-sellers.

* Public Enemy (Def Jam/Columbia, Sept. 24). These black nationalist rappers are critical favorites with a large following that should make "Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Back" a million-seller despite the usual lack of airplay. A planned fall tour co-headlining with heavy metal band Anthrax should help expand PE's visibility outside the rap world.

* Harry Connick Jr. (Columbia, Sept. 24). Connick, who sings, writes and plays piano, has become a major force in the record market by performing '40s-style music. His sixth album is "Blue Light, Red Light," full of big-band-style original compositions. Connick's last album, "We're in Love," was a million-seller.

* Ice Cube (Priority, Oct. 8). The high profile from his starring role in the notorious "Boyz N the Hood" should translate into big album sales. King of the Los Angeles "gangsta" rappers, Ice Cube is noted for his pull-no-punches style. Word is this album has something to offend everyone.

* Genesis (Atlantic, Oct. 29). Since this group features Phil Collins, one of the most popular singers in the business, expect this to be one of the fall's top albums.

* Bobby Brown (MCA, Nov. 19). Don't be surprised if this long-awaited album is bounced from the fall schedule--it was originally scheduled for last May. But whenever it comes out, it will likely rank among the top-sellers: This New Edition member became a solo star with his smash-hit 1988 album, "Don't Be Cruel," which has sold 5.8 million.

Some prominent artists not on the list deserve mention--including rapper Tone Loc and R&B; singer Karyn White. Her "Ritual of Love" is due Sept. 10 while Loc's "Cool Hand Loc" is scheduled for Nov. 7. Both had big-selling debut albums, but their new ones aren't necessarily automatic Top 10 or certain million-sellers. Both are vulnerable to the sophomore jinx--particularly Loc.

The rapper's first album, "Loc-ed After Dark," sold 2.5 million and featured "Wild Thing," one of the best-selling pop singles ever. But that album came out in 1988. In the fickle rap community, Loc may already be passe.

Dire Straits' "On Every Street," the rock group's first album in years--due Sept. 10--is also worthy of special mention. On paper it looks to be a big hit, but the group has been off the scene long enough (1985's "Brothers in Arms" was the last studio album) that success isn't automatic.

Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman is in this same "iffy" category. There's no firm date yet for the third album by this singer-songwriter who blends pop and contemporary, socially conscious folk styles. Though widely assumed to be a victim of the sophomore jinx, her second album, "Crossroads," was hardly a flop, selling 1.3 million copies.

Finally, there are some notable names not on the fall-release list, superstars who are due for new albums but who won't deliver in '91. Among them are Bruce Springsteen, Janet Jackson, M.C. Hammer, New Edition and Sinead O'Connor.

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