Aug. 30--You don't need a big-screen TV to find compelling drama this fall.
Check iTunes and music stores. Big stories will play out between battling divas, country stars and dinosaurs who aim to prove they're not yet extinct.
Look for the following albums to arrive before 2013 ends; release dates are subject to change because Internet leaks occasionally force artists to rush out songs and albums.
1 Diva showdown -- In this corner, Katy Perry, who became just the second artist to score five No. 1 hits from an album with 2010's blockbuster "Teenage Dream." "Roar," the insanely catchy lead track from "Prism," which arrives Oct. 22, exploded upon release, leaping to No. 2 from No. 85 on Billboard's Hot 100; it'll likely end Robin Thicke's 11-week run at No. 1 next week.
If "Roar" is as fully loaded as "Dream," Perry may well blow away her prime competitor, Lady Gaga, who is in the other corner with "Artpop" ( Nov. 11). A hip injury sidelined Gaga's "Born This Way" tour and momentum; she was relatively quiet until she resurfaced with "Applause."
In any other week, "Applause" would have earned major applause, but "Roar" overshadowed it. Gaga worked with hot producers Zedd and DJ White Shadow, so expect "Artpop" to live up to its title and also rule at dance clubs.
2 Rock this -- Pearl Jam strikes again with "Lightning Bolt" on Oct. 15; it's pretty much the last band standing from the vintage grunge years (though Soundgarden did return in 2012). Brendan O'Brien produced it; he and the band go way back to "Vs." Scorching single "Mind Your Manners" bodes well; their tour opens with shows at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy (Oct. 11) and Buffalo's First Niagara Center (Oct. 12).
PJ has such a loyal audience, it'll fare fine. Bigger question marks involve Kings of Leon and Nine Inch Nails. The Kings' latest CD underwhelmed, then their tour ended badly when Caleb Followill vomited on stage during a concert, left and never returned. The band canceled the rest of its tour and Jared Followill posted the group had "internal sicknesses and problems that need to be addressed."
New single "Supersoaker" rocked hard as nails but didn't exactly replicate the success of "Sex on Fire"; it failed to reach the Top 10 on Billboard's alternative and rock charts. A lot rides on "Mechanical Bull," due out Sept. 24.
Ditto NIN's "Hestiation Marks," out Tuesday. Trent Reznor put the group on hiatus while pursuing other projects, including the Oscar-winning soundtrack to "The Social Network." David Lynch directed the video to first single "Came Back Haunted"; the follow-up "Copy of A" has an even more minimalistic, electronic edge. On both songs, Trent Reznor is more measured than mad as hell.
3 Vets get back -- Two divas return Sept. 24. Cher releases "Closer to the Truth," and Elton John drops "The Diving Board." Though Cher performed the first single "Woman's World" on "The Voice" and it reached No. 1 on Billboard's dance chart, it didn't cross over to Top 40. With guest spots from Pink and Scissor Sisters, Cher sounds like she's aiming to please her loyal gay audience.
John has said "The Diving Board" will feature a rootsy, acoustic approach like he favored in his early days on "Tumbleweed Connection" and "Honky Chateau."
"It's got everything I love about American music -- gospel, soul, country," he said in a Rolling Stone story. "It's the most adult record I can make at my age. I'm just heading toward being 80 years old and playing at the Holiday Inn."
Hey, Elton: Erie has a Holiday Inn.
Rolling Stone reported a new Paul McCartney album will arrive in the fall; he worked with the sons of two famous producers -- Giles Martin (George's boy) and Ethan Johns (Glyn Johns' son). If he added Julian Lennon, Zak Starkey and Dhani Harrison, he could call it Beatles & Sons.
Hip-hop superstar Eminem releases "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" on Nov. 5, a title that suggests he's getting back to his roots.
4 Country time -- Keith Urban's "Fuse" arrives Sept. 10; he used U2's "Achtung Baby" as inspiration, according to Rolling Stone.
Not in sound, necessarily; he liked how U2 reinvented itself with that album, yet still sounded like U2. He aims to replicate that approach, adding electronic undercurrents and drum loops to his country sound. Will fans embrace the new approach or be put off?
More questions: Will "Off the Beaten Path" take Justin Moore from star to superstar on Sept. 17? And will country fans and Nashville accept Sheryl Crow's country transformation, "Feels Like Home," which hits stores Sept. 10?
5 Rising stars -- Transcendent alternative band Arcade Fire shocked a lot of music observers by winning the Grammy for Album of the Year for "The Suburbs" two years ago.
Will its still untitled follow-up, due out Oct. 29, help them cross to the mainstream? Janelle Monae was featured on Fun.'s "We Are Young," but she's a dynamic, exciting and ambitious talent in her own right, as 2010's "The ArchAndroid" proved. "The Electric Lady," due Sept. 10, features guest turns from Prince, Miguel, Erykah Badu and Esperanza Spaudling.
The Avett Brothers release "Magpie and the Dandelion" on Oct. 15, less than a year after issuing the too ballad-heavy "The Carpenter." You can hear the first single, "Another is Waiting," at www.NPR.org. It's an uncluttered, short-but-sweet winner, blessed with a surging chorus.
Also coming: John Legend, "Love in the Future" (Tuesday); 2 Chainz, "B.O.A.T.S. II: Metime" (Sept. 10); Jack Johnson, "From Here to Now to You"; Drake, "Nothing Was the Same"; Elvis Costello and the Roots, "Wake Up Ghost"; MGMT, "MGMT" (all Sept. 17); Metallica, "Through the Never" (soundtrack, Sept. 24); Sting, "The Last Ship" (Sept. 24); Alan Jackson, "The Bluegrass Album" (Sept. 24); Justin Timberlake, "The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2" (Oct. 1); Panic at the Disco, "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die" (Oct. 8); and a still-untitled TLC comeback with guest spots from Lady Gaga and Drake (Oct. 15).
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