What do Garth Brooks, Pearl Jam, Mariah Carey, Keith Sweat, Michael Bolton, Nirvana, k.d. lang, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Barney the Dinosaur all have in common?
It's not how they sound -- these acts share nothing musically. No, it's how they sell. Each has an album due this fall, and every one is expected to crack the Top 20 -- at the very least.
That's why they're all on the recording industry's A-team this fall. Because even though they may not all make great music, each is guaranteed to make a profit. And profits are what the fall album release schedule is all about.
Sorry if that seems cynical, but the simple fact is that fall -- or "pre-Christmas," as the marketing types call it -- is the record business' busiest time of year. Not only is volume waaaay up, but it's one of the few times when big-ticket items like boxed sets sell as briskly as the sale stuff.
No wonder, then, that the major labels start shoveling albums like mad come the first week of September. This year, in fact, they're not even waiting that long, as three of the season's most anticipated titles arrive at record stores Tuesday.
Leading the way is Garth Brooks' sixth album, "In Pieces" (Liberty). Although the album is expected to be even more adventurous musically than his last effort, "The Chase," most of the pre-release publicity focused on his record company's refusal to sell "In Pieces" to any store that sells used CDs -- a policy Brooks whole-heartedly endorsed. And though the label has since relented, it will be interesting to see whether the singer's pro-profits stance has soured many of his fans.
Arriving the same day is "Music Box" (Columbia), the third full-length album from Mariah Carey. Although some critics dismiss her as an artistic lightweight, she's a heavy-hitter on the sales front, and "Dreamlover," the album's first single, is already a fixture in the Top Five.
Finally, Tuesday also marks the recording debut of Barney, the gratingly affectionate purple dinosaur whose videos have made life a living hell for the parents of 4-year-olds everywhere. "Barney's Favorites" (SBK) promises to extend the terror from the TV to the stereo, a process sure to leave those parents wishing their kids were old enough to appreciate less irritating fare. Like, for instance, Metallica.
Barney isn't the only kid-vid character with an album coming this season, by the way. Fortunately, none of the others make even the slightest pretense of being wholesome. After all, Barney would never sing anything with a title like "Don't Whiz on the Electric Fence," but that's just one of the fine songs included on Ren & Stimpy's first album, "Ren & Stimpy Show -- You Eediot!" (Sony Wonder, out Tuesday).
Even less likely to uplift is "The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience, Vol. 1" (Geffen, out Nov. 23), which showcases the musical talents (such as they are) of cable TV's best-known stoners, MTV's Beavis and Butt-Head. Lyrics are rumored to consist largely of "duhnn duhnn duhnnn!" and "huh-huh, huh-huh, huh-huh."
There's also an as-yet-untitled Guns N' Roses album slated for the same day (also from Geffen). Unlike the last time, which saw the simultaneous release of the two "Use Your Illusion" albums, this project will be restricted to a single disc, suggesting that the band has either slowed down, or found another outlet for its excess songs. (Wait a sec -- you don't think . . . ?)
Is Seattle still America's most important rock and roll city? Probably not, but that has hardly diminished industry expectations for coming albums from Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Nirvana's "In Utero" (Geffen, Sept. 14) will arrive first, and despite a well-publicized squabble between the band, label chiefs and producer Steve Albini over the album's relative commerciality, the pre-release buzz says the new songs are tuneful and accessible. Pearl Jam follows a month later with "five against one" (Epic, Oct. 19), which is reputed to be leaner, louder and more exciting than its predecessor.
Also due in from the espresso capital of North America is a Soundgarden spin-off called Hater, with "Hater" (A&M, Sept. 21); the major-label bow by grunge legends the Melvins, "Houdini" (Atlantic, Sept. 21); and a rap compilation produced by Sir Mix-a-Lot entitled "Seattle . . . The Dark Side" (Rhyme Cartel/American, Aug. 31).
What other alternative offerings are there? Start with the Breeders' first full album since losing Tanya Donnely to Belly, called "Last Splash" (4AD/Elektra, Aug. 31). Then look for Iggy Pop's "American Caesar" (Virgin, Sept. 7), which includes the funniest rewrite yet of "Louie Louie"; Big Star's "reunion" album, "Columbia: Live at Missouri University, 4/25/93" (Zoo, Sept. 14); and Curve's sophomore effort, "Cuckoo" (Charisma, Sept. 21).