From Katy Perry and Stone Temple Pilots to MGMT and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, some of 2010's most anticipated albums are hitting stores this season. Big debuts from Court Yard Hounds and Drake are due, along with eagerly awaited releases by Christina Aguilera, Hole, the Hold Steady and Gaslight Anthem. Read up on 38 of the spring's discs.
MY WORLD 2.0 3/23
Just four months after releasing his debut, teen phenom Justin Bieber is rolling out the follow-up. "With My World, I was a rookie," says the singer. "I'm still a rookie, but I think of this album as an upgrade, a step above." The disc — produced by hitmakers Tricky Stewart and Bryan-Michael Cox — leans R&B, from its influences (Boyz II Men, Usher, Anthony Hamilton) to its theme. "I'm not allowed to have a girlfriend until I'm over 16," says Bieber, who reached the milestone on March 1st. "But I wrote a lot about girls."
HEAD FIRST 3/23
Written and recorded in six months, the fifth album from London electropop duo Goldfrapp is a return to the luxurious beatwork that made them dance-floor darlings and Xtina's studio pals. Heavily influenced by the pillowy atmospherics of Giorgio Moroder and Suicide, Head First is a soft-focus haze smeared with a newfound, ABBA-esque positivity. "I wasn't very happy before," says frontwoman Alison Goldfrapp. "We've done introspective, we wanted to make an 'up' album."
Meth, Ghost and Rae
"Lyrics over some nice beats — that's what the people want from us," says Ghostface Killah, who recruited fellow Wu-Tang Clan members Method Man and Raekwon for the closest thing to a Wu album since 2007. Even though most of the Clan aren't involved, the trio got the retro-soul beat for first single "Our Dreams" — which features a 1975 Michael Jackson sample — from RZA's stash. "When I heard that beat, I was like, 'Holy shit!'" says Ghostface. "It's not a roughneck joint — just nice and mellow."
NEW AMERYKAH PART TWO: RETURN OF THE ANKH 3/30
Erykah Badu's latest is the right-brained counterpart to 2008's New Amerykah Part One. "I was in a political place," she says. "This album is emotional, vulnerable." To get the moody vibe on cuts like the piano-driven "Window Seat," about an ambivalent lover, Badu recorded in her shower: "I wanted to sound like I was in a tunnel. I got my laptop and closed the door."
WOMEN AND COUNTRY 4/6
Cut in less than a week, Jakob Dylan's second solo album reunites him with T Bone Burnett, who produced the Wallflowers' 1996 breakthrough, Bringing Down the Horse. "He brings out the best in people," says Dylan. The album features cozy harmonies from Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, and is divided between songs about relationships ("We Don't Live Here Anymore") and the state of the nation ("Everybody's Hurting") — hence the title. Dylan says he's happy with the album's rootsy, nonrock feel: "I don't feel I have to shout so much anymore."
After a 25-year stint in two highly volatile bands, Slash is relieved to finally be calling the shots. "It was very cathartic," the guitarist says. "I'll go back to Velvet Revolver with a whole new point of view." He recruited all-stars for the hard-rock record, including Dave Grohl, Kid Rock, Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy. Most surprising is the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie, who sings the intense "Beautiful Dangerous." Says Slash, "People are going to trip when they hear the stuff she is capable of."
MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS 4/6
"I've never been one to categorize things," says Peter Wolf of his first solo album in 14 years. The former J. Geils frontman makes his point with an adventurous journey through Philly soul, New Orleans funk (he covers Allen Toussaint) and scruffy blues. "It doesn't feel strange to have different influences floating around," says Wolf. Backed by ex-Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell, Wolf cut duets with Merle Haggard, Shelby Lynne and Neko Case. Haggard — with whom Wolf sang on the bar-stool anthem "It's Too Late for Me" — was his favorite partner. "Merle got so inside that song, everyone was spellbound," says Wolf. "I'm a musician, but I still get excited when I hear new things."
Fans expecting another album of supercatchy, wry psych-pop gems from MGMT will probably be disappointed. And that's the idea. "Some will hate it, and some will love it," says singer-keyboardist Andrew Vanwyngarden. "We want to freak people out." After touring for two years behind their debut, 2007's Oracular Spectacular, Vanwyngarden and his partner in the band, Ben Goldwasser, recorded most of the LP in Malibu with producer Pete Kember — of U.K. shoegazers Spacemen 3. The album ranges from quirky, British Invasion-like tunes ("It's Working") to sprawling, experimental cuts like the 12-minute Beach Boys-influenced "Siberian Breaks." "One of our goals has been to infiltrate mainstream culture — and still shock people," says Vanwyngarden. "I think this will do that."
Coheed and Cambria
YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW 4/13
Hard rock's biggest geeks take their prog ambitions to new heights on this fifth album, which will be released with a 350-page novel co-written by frontman Claudio Sanchez. (Both explore the origins of the characters Coheed and Cambria, mainstays in the band's mythology.) With NIN producer Atticus Ross and Tool collaborator Joe Barresi, the band crafted a dense, layered LP led by hooky single "The Broken." "[Ross and Barresi] found ways to make the tunes grow, as opposed to coming right out of the gate at one intensity and staying there," says Sanchez.
COUNTRY MUSIC 4/20
In recent years, willie Nelson has recorded Tin Pan Alley tunes, jazz, Western swing and even reggae. His latest, however, is straight-up country. "I wanted to put in parentheses at the bottom, 'In case you've forgotten,'" he says. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the LP includes covers of Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind" and Bob Wills' "Gotta Walk Alone." Most were recorded in one or two takes. "T Bone just let us go and said, 'That's good. Do the next one,'" says Nelson. "I love making records. I could make one per day."
FEARLESS LOVE 4/27
Melissa Etheridge's latest reunites her with John Shanks — he started as her guitarist and became a producer for Bon Jovi, Miley Cyrus and others. "When we sat down, I said, 'Let's make that Zeppelin record we always wanted to make!'" says Etheridge. The pair realized their goal on raucous, riff-y tracks like the title tune and "Nervous." Etheridge really lets it rip on "Miss California," about the state's ban on gay marriage. "I thought California was so forward-thinking," she says. "Proposition 8 was a reality call."
NOBODY'S DAUGHTER 4/27
"This record is about greed, vengeance and feminism," says Courtney Love of the ragged rock songs on her first LP in six years — and the first she'll release with a new incarnation of Hole. Writing began in 2005, while Love was strumming raw folk tunes on an acoustic during a rehab stint. But as the songs developed — with help from producer Michael Beinhorn, Billy Corgan and Linda Perry — Love says, "Shit got darker, I got meaner, and the tracks got hard and big." Highlights: a ballad called "Honey" and the scuzzy, blues-derived punk tune "Skinny Little Bitch." "It's more important than any record I've made," says Love. "And who says rock & roll has to be made in six fuckin' weeks?"
Broken Social Scene
FORGIVENESS ROCK RECORD 5/4
The sprawling Canadian collective brought a mob mentality to its fifth album: "It's a lot more fun than being in a four-piece band," says Broken Social Scene co-founder Brendan Canning. Cut mostly in Chicago, the LP features a dozen or so contributors, including Feist, Emily Haines of Metric and Pavement's Scott Kannberg. The sound is surprisingly reined-in on pretty tunes like "All to All," a sparkling, loop-driven song, and "Sentimental X's," a country-rock cut where Feist, Haines and Amy Millan harmonize over busy, syncopated drums and chiming effects.
Court Yard Hounds
COURT YARD HOUNDS 5/4
"We've been better known as background singers, so it's exposing," says Martie Maguire of the album she and her sister Emily Robison made without fellow Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. With Maines semiretired, the sisters began cutting demos — and wound up with a full-length disc, complete with bare-bones ballads and a Jakob Dylan cameo. "The album isn't very country," says Maguire. "I have a hard time thinking of myself as a country artist."
The Hold Steady
HEAVEN IS WHENEVER 5/4
Frontman Craig Finn says the New York rockers' fifth album is "more of a guitar record. It sounds like a Hold Steady record, but it's something new, too." The LP reunites the band with producer Dean Baltulonis, who worked on the group's first two LPs, and has some typically arcane rock-geek references: "We Can Get Together" is about two people playing and discussing the songs they love, including Pavement's "Heaven Is a Truck" and Hüsker Dü's "Makes No Sense at All." Lyrically, the album deals with "embracing suffering and finding reward in our everyday lives," says Finn. "There's heavy parts and funny parts."
The New Pornographers
"I wanted to bridge the gap between Led Zeppelin and [Sixties psychedelic pop band] the Fifth Dimension," says Carl Newman, chief songwriter for Canadian-American power-pop collective the New Pornographers. Newman recorded Together in his native Vancouver and in a cabin in upstate New York, enlisting guests like Annie Clark of St. Vincent, who played a trippy guitar solo on the ballad "My Shepherd." Together still sounds like the New Pornographers, thanks to its catchy British Invasion melodies and to longtime Pornographer (and solo star) Neko Case, who sings lead on several songs, including "The Crash Years," a rocker with strings and flutes, and "My Shepherd," whose lyrics are based on the creepy 2007 documentary Crazy Love. "She's a secret weapon," Newman says of Case. "It's hard not to use her."
HIGH VIOLET 5/11
After breaking out with 2007's slow-burning set Boxer — which includes the ballad "Fake Empire," used to soundtrack an Obama campaign spot — Brooklyn indie rockers the National are amping up their sound for the follow-up, a set of aggressive tunes that guitarist Aaron Dessner describes as "cathartic and darker." The disc, which features cameos from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Sufjan Stevens, will contain cuts like the crunchy "Blood Buzz, Ohio" and the orchestral "L.A. Cathedral." "It starts as a stately, elegant affair but explodes in the end," says Dessner. "It'll be great live."
The Black Keys
The Black Keys assumed Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, where the Rolling Stones cut "Wild Horses," would have incredible mojo. "Awesome things happened there in the Sixties and Seventies," says drummer Patrick Carney. "That's the mystique." But when the Akron, Ohio, garage-blues duo arrived in August, they found a spare, rundown building in a ghost town. Fueled by local dirt weed and vending-machine snacks, the pair banged out 16 songs in 10 days, recording everything with gear that co-producer Mark Neill trucked in from San Diego. The result is an album that's darker and more stripped-down than 2007's Danger Mouse-produced Attack and Release. "We like spooky sounds," says Auerbach. "Not like Tim Burton spooky, but more like Alice Coltrane, where a dark groove is laid down."
Stone Temple Pilots
STONE TEMPLE PILOTS 5/25
The grunge-era rockers' first new album since 2001 was inevitable, says singer Scott Weiland: "I always felt it would happen. We left things incomplete." The band-produced LP collides riff rock and Beatles psychedelia with gospel-rocker "Maver" and the Seventies-style "Huckleberry Crumble." Weiland sings of his impending divorce and his brother's recent death, while guitarist Dean DeLeo lays down heavy blues and Spiders From Mars-style licks. "Dean really stepped up," says Weiland. "His playing is amazing."
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
"I knew there was something in the band that hadn't been brought out," says Tom Petty, who let the Heartbreakers run wild on Mojo, his loudest, loosest, bluesiest album ever. "I was listening to early Jeff Beck Group, Peter Green, Muddy Waters, even a little JJ Cale — so that's kind of the way I was thinking when I was writing." To make it all work, Petty pushed guitarist Mike Campbell to let go of his signature restraint and step up as a guitar hero: He solos with almost Buddy Guy-like abandon throughout and riffs Zep-style on the surprisingly heavy "Good Enough." There's more than just blues rock here, though. "First Flash of Freedom" has a psychedelic swing that suggests Love; the stoner's lament "Don't Pull Me Over" is an unexpected stab at reggae; and "The Trip to Pirate's Cove" is a classic Petty story-song ("I've got a friend in Mendocino/And it's getting close to harvest time," he sings). Says Petty, "We were having so much fun recording that we had to force ourselves to pull the plug — it could have gone on and on."
TITLE TBD MAY
"These new songs are pretty true to what we would be doing if we would have gone into suspended animation 20 years ago and just woke up," says Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo's first album since 1990. "If you listen to some of them with your eyes closed, you might go, 'Oh, my God, it's Album One, Side Three' or Freedom of Choice, Side Three.'" Outside collaborators, including Lily Allen producer Greg Kurstin and Santigold, were brought in to work on the tracks. "Devo are rather insular, so we wanted to work with people who are connected to the rest of the world," says Mothersbaugh.
Nas and Damian Marley
DISTANT RELATIVES MAY
Nas and Damian Marley's last collaboration — a track on Marley's 2005 LP Welcome to Jamrock — went so well that the pair decided to team up again for a new album. This time, they focused on a common theme: Africa. "We always thought we'd give something back to Africa," says Marley, who will donate proceeds from the disc to various charities. Highlight: the funky, horn-driven "As We Enter," which samples Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke and features Nas rhyming "Ghana" and "Obama."
Band of Horses
INFINITE ARMS MAY
"I think it's a Friday-night record," says Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell of the upbeat vibe on the indie rockers' third album. Recorded over the past year and a half in Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Asheville, North Carolina; and L.A., the disc was produced by the five-piece themselves, which led them to go, as Bridwell says, "a little bit bonkers sometimes." One tune has a three-piece horn section and strings, another has a doo-wop feel, and there's a trippy, stoner-rock anthem. Other tracks include "Laredo," "On My Way Back Home" and "Bartles and James," which Bridwell says is "not influenced by the alcoholic beverage of the same name."
SIR LUCIOUS LEFT FOOT: SON OF CHICO DUSTY MAY
The OutKast rapper hasn't released an album since 2006's Idlewild, but his first solo set doesn't stray too far from the Atlanta duo's sound: It's heavy on trunk-rattling funk beats and wriggling, spacey synth lines reminiscent of ATLiens. Old rhyme partner André 3000 cameos on "Lookin 4 Ya"; the ominous, R&B-tinged "Hustle Blood" features Jamie Foxx; and "Shine Blockas," a booming, soulful jam with Gucci Mane, is already an underground hit. The release has been repeatedly delayed as Big Boi negotiates with his record label, but that's given him time to live with the music. "If I can listen to it every day for years," he says, "I know fans will wear it out when they get it."
THANK ME LATER MAY
Drake's LP is a reflection of how the upstart Toronto MC has become hip-hop's new leading man. "I tried to capture every great moment I've had in the last year," he says. "It's triumphant." To wit: He raps about a presumed love affair with Rihanna and his friendship with mentor Lil Wayne on "Fireworks." Drake mostly eschewed big names in favor of home-town producers (Boi-1da, Noah "40" Shebib) and a collaboration with New York indie rockers Francis and the Lights. "It's gonna be interesting," he says. "I hope it's pleasing to the ear."
TO THE SEA 6/1
On his fifth album, Jack Johnson exposes his tougher side, ditching his acoustic strums for thick, choppy riffs. "I've been listening to a lot of Radiohead and White Stripes," says Johnson, who rocks out on the jubilant, Beatlesque "You and Your Heart," the likely first single. "But don't get the wrong idea — it's not my big electric album." There's also mellotron, Wurlitzer and hand claps, like on the upbeat "At or With Me." But the most mellow man in rock doesn't totally abandon his trademark sound. "A few songs are just my voice and the acoustic," says the singer, who cut most of the LP at his solar-powered studio in Oahu, Hawaii. "If it was a quiet enough night, I'd just get my guitar and record outside in the carport."
On her fourth LP, Christina Aguilera didn't want to sound like herself. "I'm not interested in giving it this 'Christina' sound," she says. "I want to make my voice more relaxed, less soulful." So Aguilera invited synth-punk trio Le Tigre, Ladytron, singer Sia and M.I.A. producers Hill and Switch, among others, to her L.A. studio, where they cut tunes packed with futuristic synths and singsong chants. Aguilera got sentimental on "All I Need," a ballad written for her two-year-old son: "It's a sweet, sweet song."
TITLE TBD 6/8
Get ready for a new American epic: The Oregon folk rockers' latest was inspired by the storytelling in For Whom the Bell Tolls, East of Eden and Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding. "There's an overarching narrative about a prodigal son," says frontman Eric Earley of tunes like "The Man Who Would Speak True" and "Below the Hurricane." "Lyrically, it's more advanced than our last record." The music, produced by Earley in Portland, is just as ambitious, with multisong suites, big Seventies-rock anthems and string sections. "We're not as low-fi as we were," Earley says. "The songs mean more to me now."
AMERICAN SLANG 6/15
On 2008's The '59 Sound, New Jersey's Gaslight Anthem delivered soulful punk tunes about working-class dreamers, earning plenty of Springsteen comparisons. But for the follow-up, Gaslight looked across the pond. "We've been influenced by early Stones," says frontman Brian Fallon of the LP, which Gaslight are cutting in New York. Fallon compares the title track to "Gimme Shelter" and says "The Queen of Chelsea" recalls the Clash's "Straight to Hell" and the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket." "It would be easy to write The '59 Sound again," says Fallon. "We wanted a new road map."
WHITE CROSSES JUNE
This Florida foursome's roaring breakthrough and major-label debut, 2007's New Wave, got them branded sellouts in the punk scene that birthed them. On the follow-up, recorded in L.A. with producer Butch Vig, they're in a disgruntled mood. "We wanted to top ourselves," says frontman Tom Gabel. "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" is a revved-up renunciation, and the anti-anti-abortion title track is slick and defiant. "At a certain point," says Gabel, "you gotta throw your hands in the air and say, 'Fuck it.'"
TITLE TBD JUNE
Maroon 5's last album — 2007's double-platinum It Won't Be Soon Before Long — wasn't exactly a bomb, but singer Adam Levine says he wasn't happy with it. "It sounded more like other people than us," he says. To switch things up, the band traveled to Switzerland to work with legendary AC/DC and Def Leppard producer Robert "Mutt" Lange. "There's never been a more Mutt-friendly band than us," he says. "He's into pop, he's an amazing rock producer, and he pushed us — really kicked my ass." The result: a purposely eclectic third album that borrows from Motown ("I Can't Lie"), country music ("Out of Goodbyes") and Amy Winehouse-style throwback soul ("Give a Little More"). "This is more like our debut," says Levine. "We're less interested in moving the machine and more concerned with writing music naturally."
TITLE TBD JUNE
"When I make a record, I draw on inspiration I get from other people," says producer Mark Ronson, who invited members of Kaiser Chiefs and the Zutons, and former Pipettes singer Rose Elinor Dougall, among others, to collaborate on his third solo album. The disc — recorded in New York and London over the past year — reveals Ronson's newfound fascination with vintage keyboards. (He fell in love with them while producing Duran Duran last summer.) The synths brought out Ronson's inner studio geek and helped him find a new way to channel his influences into songs that are both retro and futuristic. "There are all these synth plug-ins for your computer," he says, "but I believe in the real shit, if you can get your hands on it."
THE GUITAR SONG JULY
Country outlaw Jamey Johnson will release two albums in 2010: A "white album," due first, will focus on upbeat material, including the hard-rocking singalong "California Riots" and the title track, which is sung from the perspective of old guitars hanging on a wall. (A more somber "black album" — featuring songs about money troubles — will follow in the fall.) Johnson says the abundance of material reflects a hot streak he's been on for the past year or so. "It's an epic journey through honky-tonk-ville," he says. "If I record all this material, I fully intend to get it out."
TITLE TBD SUMMER
"I want to evolve like Madonna," says Katy Perry. "If I had to be the fruity pinup girl another day, I would jump off the Hollywood sign." Perry's follow-up to 2008's smash One of the Boys has her re-teaming with hitmakers Dr. Luke and Max Martin and delivering more hypercatchy pop in the vein of "Hot N Cold" and her Number One single, "I Kissed a Girl," while also delving into deeper matters: "My faith, my conviction and awe of the supernatural world." And thanks to her recent engagement to Russell Brand, the album also boasts its share of love songs — 50 percent, by her estimate. Still, the pop tart hasn't gone totally chaste. In the Prince-influenced "Dressing Up," Perry coos, "You wanna pet my kitty?" "You're such a dirty doggie" and "My cookie monster wants a taste," of which Perry says, "I think those lyrics are cute!"
Ra Ra Riot
TITLE TBD SUMMER
Chamber-pop six-piece Ra Ra Riot moved to an upstate New York peach farm to write their self-produced second album. They spun plenty of Wings and Genesis — and added more synth to their sound. The disc also features a collaboration with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. "It sounds like another version of Ra Ra Riot," singer Wesley Miles says. "It's got a bit of Rostam's personality and a bit of ours.
TITLE TBD SUMMER
For their sixth album, New York indie-rockers the Walkmen holed up in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah frontman Alec Ounsworth's studio in Philadelphia to cut a disc inspired by classic artists like Elvis, Roy Orbison, Fats Domino and Johnny Cash. "All those guys plus Jane's Addiction," adds singer Hamilton Leithauser. "That influence came out of left field, but we all loved Jane's when we were younger." Of the roughly 25 tunes the Walkmen have written, Leithauser is stoked for the tentatitvely-titled "Eating Puppies" ("It's got a surf rock vibe") and the horn-powered "Heffer" ("That one bounces around"). Leithauser also hopes that leftover tracks will make it onto a pair of EPs following the album's release. "We'll have some quality shit leftover," he says.
Reporting by Steve Appleford, David Browne, Patrick Doyle, Josh Eells, Jenny Eliscu, Nicole Frehsée, Caryn Ganz, Andy Greene, Shirley Halperin, Brian Hiatt, Christian Hoard, Melissa Maerz, Kevin O'Donnell, Jayson Rodriguez, Austin Scaggs, Evan Serpick, Christopher R. Weingarten. Album information and dates confirmed as of press time.