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Spring Music Preview: Lady Gaga, Foo Fighters, Lil Wayne and Many More

Plus: 42 More of 2011’s Hottest Albums

Spitfire Pictures

Wasting Light 4/12

For their seventh studio album, the Foo Fighters and producer Butch Vig had three rules: "It's got to be hooky, heavy and we're going analog all the way," says Vig, who first worked with Dave Grohl two decades ago on Nirvana's Nevermind. "It needed to sound like an atom bomb," adds Grohl. "That's why I called Butch." Last summer, the Foos set up in Grohl's two-car garage in Encino, California ("a ballad-free zone," says the singer), and hammered out face-melting riffs for tracks like "Back & Forth," "White Limo" and first single "Rope," which debuted atop Billboard's rock chart.

Click to listen to the Foo Fighters' "Rope"

A few old friends helped flesh out the album's sound: Original guitarist Pat Smear is a full-fledged Foo again, Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould guests on "Dear Rosemary" ("I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if not for Hüsker Dü," says Grohl), and Grohl's former bandmate Krist Novoselic plays accordion and bass on the disc's darkest tune, "I Should Have Known." "I know it's our best record," says Grohl. "It's definitive, like AC/DC's Back in Black, Metallica's Black Album or Nevermind. It takes that last 15 years and reduces it to 48 minutes. It's bitchin'." – Austin Scaggs

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Review: "Rope"

Sean Brackbill

The Kills

Blood Pressures 4/5

The Kills' previous three discs were all amped, electric blues punk, but for the duo's fourth, guitarist Jamie Hince broke out a secret weapon: his very first acoustic guitar, a 1935 Gibson L-00 he bought last year. "With an acoustic, you tend to write songs, not riffs," he says. "This is blatantly obvious to anyone who's ever done it, but for me it was a fucking breakthrough." The resulting disc sets singer Alison Mosshart's wailing vocals against sleazy dub on "Satellite," sad Mellotron chords on "Wild Charms" and sampled ping-pong-ball percussion on "Heart Is a Beating Drum." They recorded over 12 months in rural Michigan, with sessions interrupted by a broken arm ("I got in a scrap," Hince says) and Mosshart's stint in the Dead Weather. Says Hince, "The longer you're in a band, the longer it takes to make an album."

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David Jordan Wi

Robbie Robertson

How to Become Clairvoyant 4/5

Robertson returns with his first solo LP in 13 years, with many of the songs emerging from casual songwriting sessions with Eric Clapton almost a decade ago. The reflective, melancholy set – which includes electronic textures by Trent Reznor – is summed up by the title of a key track, "The Right Mistake." "I got that phrase from Thelonious Monk," says Robertson. "I heard him say that in music we're searching for the right mistake. I thought, 'Wow, I completely agree.' It also applies to life."

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Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

TV on the Radio

Nine Types of Light 4/12

The Brooklyn art-rock crew took things slow while cutting its fifth LP at producer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Sitek's studio-equipped L.A. pad last summer. "In New York, time is money," says Sitek. "This time, we had a chance to process the music and make sure it came across right." The synth-heavy disc balances jittery, Talking Heads-ish cuts ("No Future Shock") with warm ballads ("You," the single "Will Do"). "Our slower songs tend to be like an epic journey," says Sitek. "We finally managed to make slow-jams that are concise."

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-Review: TV on the Radio's Joyful, Urgent SXSW Show


Panda Bear

Tomboy 4/12

"I thought playing guitar might force me to write different types of songs," says Noah Lennox. "And it did." While the Animal Collective mastermind's last solo album, 2007's acclaimed Person Pitch, was a harmony-filled blast of joy, his new one goes way darker. "I was struck by how intense it made me feel listening to it," says Lennox, who built the album's sound around warped-beyond-recognition guitars instead of samples. "It's heavy-sounding to me." It's also his most diverse work yet, pivoting from the aptly titled, almost medieval "Drone" to the Afropop-in-space of "Afterburner" to the hip-hop beat of "Slow Motion."

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Kevin Mazur

Paul Simon

So Beautiful or So What 4/12

For his first album since 2006, Simon holed up in a guitar-crammed cottage on his Connecticut property and kept the songs and arrangements intentionally simple. "I didn't want to build the record too much," he says. "Once I put two or three guitars on, that was all." He tried out some new sounds, too: "Dazzling Blue" features a bluegrass vocal group, and the album includes Simon's first-ever use of sampling (see the bit of blues-harp great Sonny Terry on "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light"). "That opened up a whole new world," he says. "I like things that sound old and new at the same time." - David Browne

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Alison Krauss & Union Station

Paper Airplane 4/12

After several years touring and recording with Robert Plant, Krauss is back fronting her platinum-selling bluegrass group. Recorded in Nashville starting in summer 2009, their first album in seven years includes heartbroken covers of Richard Thompson's "Dimming of the Day" and Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell." "I really wanted it to be just the five of us, so it's pretty stripped-down," Krauss says. "We all have different tastes, and our backgrounds show up in a wonderful way on this record." – Patrick Doyle

Steve Earle

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive 4/26

"It's probably the countriest record I've done in a long time," Earle says about his 14th LP, recorded over six days in L.A. and New Orleans with producer T Bone Burnett. Highlights include "This City," a tribute to New Orleans written for HBO's Treme, and "Heaven or Hell," an ominous duet with wife Allison Moorer that he penned for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' scrapped follow-up to 2007's Raising Sand. Says Earle, "It's not a song a husband and wife who want to stay married ought to be singing." Sonically, Burnett added way more reverb to Earle's growl than usual. "I was OK with surrendering control," says the singer. "I wanted to focus on writing the best songs I could."

Dr. Billy Ingram/WireImage

Stevie Nicks

In Your Dreams 5/3

A year ago, Nicks invited Eurythmics' Dave Stewart to her L.A. home – where they wrote seven of her new LP's 13 tunes together, drawing on classic Sixties pop for inspiration. "I had to keep asking Dave whether we were making a Beatles album," she says of tunes like "Everybody Loves You." Stewart compares the album's retro sound to "a festival in 1969." Adds Nicks, "This has been the best musical year of my life, honestly. And I've done lots of albums with Fleetwood Mac and solo records that have been fantastic."

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Sean Pecknold

Fleet Foxes

Helplessness Blues 5/3

A few bumps have turned up on the road to the harmony-­happy folkies' second album, including a fire scare at the band's Seattle studio and a week of recording scuttled by technical difficulties. But Fleet Foxes' biggest obstacle has been their own high standards. "I don't think we'll do a record with this level of scrutiny again, because I like records that feel a little more tossed off," says singer Robin Peck­nold. "We just wanted to make sure we were happy with everything." Their meticulousness has paid off for fans: The contemplative lead single "Helplessness Blues," the eight-minute epic "The Shrine/An Argument" and the stirring album closer "Grown Ocean" all hum with an intensity that comes only through great care. – Josh Eells

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Stewart O'Shields

Warren Haynes

Man in Motion 5/10 

"I've been looking forward to doing this for years," the Gov't Mule/Dead/Allman Brothers singer-guitarist says of his new solo record, whose sound is steeped in the R&B and soul records of his youth. "I used to sit in my room and sing like Wilson Pickett, Smokey Robinson and Otis Redding." Cut in January 2009 at Willie Nelson's studio near Austin with members of the ­Meters and the Faces, the album emphasizes horns and organs as much as Haynes' trademark guitar solos, and the tunes tip their hat to solemn gospel ("Save Me") and barroom shuffles ("Hattiesburg Hustle").

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Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns/Getty

Booker T. Jones

The Road From Memphis 5/10

After ending a 28-year hiatus in 2009 with an album where he was joined by the Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young, Jones enlisted the Roots as his sidemen for his next disc. "I had the best players in the world when I was in Memphis," says the former leader of the legendary Stax house band, the MGs. "Now I'm almost there again with the Roots." They recorded in New York throughout 2010 with producers ?uestlove and Rob Schnapf, plus guest vocalists including Lou Reed, the National's Matt Berninger and My Morning Jacket's Jim James, who wrote the uplifting "Progress." "His voice is so reassuring," says Jones.

Courtesy of Lady Gaga via Twitter.com

Lady Gaga

The Fame Monster 5/23

Click to listen to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"

Lady Gaga's self-empowerment anthem "Born This Way" is already a Number One smash and one of the most successful singles of her career – but her ambitions for her second LP (due May 23rd) are way higher. " 'Born This Way' is just the beginning of this album," Gaga promised in a recent interview. "It's certainly not even the biggest hit on the album."

Gaga spent the past year working furiously on new music between shows on her Monster Ball world tour, teaming again with The Fame Monster producers RedOne and Fernando Garibay. "It's a marriage of electronic music with major, epic, dare I even say, metal or rock & roll, pop, anthemic-style melodies with really sledgehammering dance beats," the singer said.

The second single, "Judas," is classic Gaga, with multiple hooks, a deep house beat and flirty lyrics about falling for a bad boy. Edgier industrial influences show up on "Hair," which pairs surreal inspirational lyrics ("I am my hair!") with gnashing Nine Inch Nails-ish beats. The torchy "You and I" shows the strong influence of her friend Elton John. "I just love her," says John, who's heard the album. "She's seizing her chance."

Then there's "Edge of Glory," an over-the-top power ballad featuring the E Street Band's Clarence Clemons wailing away on saxophone. "She told me, 'Just play from your heart,' " says Clemons. They ended up recording together until three in the morning. "It was a day I'll never forget," Clemons adds. "When I left the studio, it took me a few days to come down. What she does, man, it just blows my mind." – Simon Vozick-Levinson

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Jeff Antebi

Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi

Rome 5/17

Producer Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) and Luppi, an Italian composer, labored for five years on this heartfelt tribute to Italy's golden age of movie scores. They recorded in the title city with local musicians who served on films by master directors Sergio Leone and Dario Argento. "We did everything we could to capture the sounds as well as the spirit," says Burton, who recruited Jack White and Norah Jones as guest vocalists. "We did our homework well."

Larry Marano/Getty

Owl City

All Things Bright and Beautiful 5/17 

Adam young returned to his home studio in Owatonna, Minnesota, to cut the follow-up to 2009's platinum Ocean Eyes, once again playing most instruments himself. While tracks like "The Real World" and "Astronauts" recall his sugary electro megahit "Fireflies," Young also stretched musically, fusing digital pulses with acoustic country guitar on "Honey and the Bee." Other new tunes reflect post-fame experiences, like "Deer in the Headlights," which he says details "a bittersweet relational thing."

Stephen Lovekin/Getty

Ben Harper

Give Till It's Gone 5/17 

After five records with various bands, for his 10th disc, Harper assembled a broad range of solo material, from acoustic ballads ("Feel Love") to feedback-tinged rave-ups ("Rock N' Roll Is Free"). He recorded the set last year at Jackson Browne's studio – Browne sings harmony on one track, and Ringo Starr, with whom Harper has recorded and toured, played drums on two more. "It's the most Beatles-sounding song I've ever done," Harper says of the trippy "Spilling Faith," "but it has an actual Beatle on it, so I have license!"

Kurt Markus

Brad Paisley

This is Country Music 5/24

"American Saturday Night sort of was my The Times They Are a-Changin' album," says the country megastar. "But you can't make an album like that every time out." For the follow-up to his 2009 hit – which defied the conventions of right-leaning Nashville by hailing President Obama's election – Paisley is serving up a meat-and-potatoes celebration of his home genre. The title track, already a Top Five smash, pays tribute to the unflinching real­ism of country songwriting. "I'm very proud of the fact that this format is so on the nose," he says. "There's a sort of bravery in the fact that country songs deal straightforwardly – not metaphorically – with topics like cancer and patriotism and faith and divorce."

Death Cab For Cutie

Codes and Keys 5/31

In the three years since Death Cab for Cutie released their last album, the Washington-based rockers have been busy – and not just working on their seventh LP, Codes and Keys. Since 2008, every Death Cab member has undergone a Major Life Change: frontman Ben Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer got married (Gibbard to actress Zooey Deschanel); drummer Jason McGerr had a kid; and guitarist Chris Walla relocated from Portland to Seattle.

So it makes sense that the band's new album (out May 31st) wrestles with the idea of belonging. "We're struggling with the idea of home," Walla tells Rolling Stone.

Read the full story here.

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-Listen: "Codes and Keys"

Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for VEVO

Jay-Z and Kanye West

Watch the Throne TBD

"Mos Def used to talk all the time about how jazz musicians would just come together in a room and see what they came up with," says Kanye West. "Four songs, five songs, whatever – then they'd put out an album." Mos' history lesson is the inspiration behind Watch the Throne, a full-length collaboration between Kanye and Jay-Z ­recorded in studios from England to Australia. "It's nonarguable," says Kanye. "Me and Jay-Z are the two most influential rappers of the last decade, and we connect on all these different levels." Though their operatic single "H.A.M." fizzled on the Hot 100, Kanye predicts another critical masterpiece. "It's going to be way more awesome than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. My skills are increasing." – Austin Scaggs

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-Review: "H.A.M."

Taylor Hill/Getty

Lil Wayne

Tha Carter IV TBD

Starting just days after his release from Rikers Island last November, Wayne has practically lived in Miami's Hit Factory studio. "We leased it for the whole year – every day, 24/7, so he can just go whenever," says manager Cortez Bryant. Wayne has already cut dozens of new tracks with help from stars including T-Pain and Kanye West. The schwingtastic "Wayne's World," a contender for the final track list, is three machine-­gunning minutes of adenoidal wordplay topped with a triumphant hook. Weezy is confident that his dense, intricately crafted new verses will have the competition reconsidering their future. "There's a lot of rapping on this," he says. "I want other rappers to hear it and say, 'I quit. I better start making club songs.' " – Josh Eells

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Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Vh1

My Morning Jacket

Circuital Late May/Early June

Tracked mostly live in a Louisville, Kentucky, church gym, MMJ's sixth studio album "came out sort of easy," says frontman Jim James. Songs such as the groove-driven "The Day Is Coming" and the delicate "Slow Slow Tune" give the record a more laid-back feel than 2008's Evil Urges. Drummer Patrick Hallahan delivers his most restrained performances yet, leaving more room for bassist Two-Tone Tommy to stretch out. "I would give them very simple demos," says James. "There's something so special about just playing in the room with everybody and letting it be what it's going to be."

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DL Anderson

Bon Iver

Title TBD June

In the three years since Bon Iver released its critically beloved 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago, frontman Justin Vernon earned thousands of new fans – including Kanye West, who invited the sensitive singer-songwriter to appear on six songs of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

But when Vernon sat down to work on Bon Iver’s follow-up album, he discovered a problem. "Somewhere along the line, I forgot how to write songs," he tells Rolling Stone. "I couldn't do it anymore with a guitar. It wasn't happening."

 Read the full story here.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Lenny Kravitz

Black and White America Summer

"My rock's always got some funk in it, and my funk always has some rock in it," says Kravitz, who cut his first disc since 2008 at his home studio in the Bahamas. Highlights include the seductive R&B jam "Super Love" and the raw "Come On Get It," on which Kravitz pants like a dog in heat. The title track is about the obstacles his parents endured as a mixed-race couple. "When they walked the streets, they were in danger," he says. "People would spit at them. Nasty shit. It's my story. And it's black and white America. It's who I am."

John Shearer/WireImage

Blink-182

Title TBD Summer

Blink's first full album since 2003 amps their bratty, ­supercatchy pop punk with new moves they learned during the years apart. "It's a great mix – huge stadium rock, punk and indie-rock elements, with drum-and-bass beats," says singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge. The self-produced set is still taking shape: DeLonge is laying down his parts in San Diego, while singer-bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker are recording in L.A. 

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Leigh Vogel/Getty

Jane’s Addiction

The Great Escape Artist Summer

The L.A. alt-godfathers are deep into some forward-looking sounds with the help of their new bassist, TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek. "He's like a scientist," says singer Perry Farrell. "It just keeps getting gnarlier and gnarlier." Produced by Rich Costey (Muse), the album will draw from about 20 potential songs. Adds guitarist Dave Navarro, "We're in a really good space creatively and emotionally."

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-Story: Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro Discuss Making 'The Great Escape Artist'

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images For Tyler Perry Studios

Mary J. Blige

TBD Summer

For her tenth album, the queen of hip-hop soul has enlisted a studio full of top R&B producers, including Jerry Wonder, Danja, Tricky Stewart, Babyface, The-Dream and Terry Lewis to craft a retro album with lots of live instrumentation and soul samples. "I'm gravitating towards the natural warmth and depth in music, the way the instruments felt when we were coming up," she says, citing Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan as inspirations. She's still recording, but among the tracks likely to make the final cut are the Jerry Wonder-produced "Feel Inside" and "Beautiful Scars," a ballad by Diane Warren.

Brayden Olso

Das Racist

Relax Summer

After making their name with two brilliant 2010 mixtapes, stoner-rap smartasses Himanshu Suri, Victor Vazquez and Ashok Kondabolu are treating their proper full-length debut more "like an album," says Suri. With tentative collaborations lined up from the likes of Diplo, Yeasayer, and their fellow Wesleyan alums MGMT, the Bushwick-based trio are making their most coherent, hook-driven tunes ever, shunning the novelty tag they picked up with breakout single "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell." That said, their rap-nerd in-joke cheekiness is most definitely intact. "We have a joint called 'Wife Her Out' and a joint called 'Booty in the Air'," Suri says. "'Cause we had to have something for the ladies."

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Paul Natkin/WireImage

Also Released: Summer

Lloyd
King of Hearts June

Dave Matthews Band
Live at Wrigley Field Summer

Dave Stewart
Blackbird Diaries Summer

Dr. Dre 
Detox TBD

Reporting by Steve ­Apple­ford, David Browne, Matt Diehl, Patrick Doyle, Josh Eells, Nicole Frehsée, David Fricke, Andy Greene, Brian Hiatt, Matthew Perpetua, Stephen Rodrick, Jody Rosen, Austin Scaggs, Evan Serpick, Simon Vozick-Levinson and Jonah Weiner.

Album information and dates confirmed as of press time.

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