USA TODAY's music team highlights essential releases in November and December.
A healthy fall music rollout in September and October brought chart-toppers by Drake, Jack Johnson, Pearl Jam and Justin Timberlake, and kept the top five bustling with entries from Kings of Leon, Cher, Elton John, Lorde, Chris Young, Justin Moore, Avicii and Tyler Farr. Katy Perry is certain to boost the bottom line with a No. 1 debut next week and more tent poles are on the way.
Will they be enough to pull 2013 out of a slump? Album sales are down 6% from last year, and digital track sales, once on a skyward trajectory, are lagging 4%. Delays have soured hopes for late-year sales sizzle from Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, the Black Keys and Jennifer Lopez. The Jonas Brothers release appears dicey. And Dr. Dre's endlessly postponed Detox? A mixtape of Sasquatch and unicorn duets is more likely by year's end.
Yet November and December are stirring excitement in fans and confidence in retailers, thanks to the year's prominent late arrivals. USA TODAY's music team looks at eight that are worth the wait.
Loved Me Back to Life
The buzz: "The challenge was to de-sing," Dion says of her first English-language album in six years. The diva sought to bring the huge, pristine soprano that launched some of the '90s' biggest power ballads down to earth a bit, using what she calls her "bedroom voice … It's raspier, like I haven't slept all night — even if I'm still very disciplined. It was fun." She had predictably A-list support: The list of contributing songwriters and producers includes Ne-Yo and Stevie Wonder (her duet partners on, respectively, Incredible and a new reading of Overjoyed), as well as Diane Warren, Tricky Stewart, Eg White, Daniel Merriweather, Babyface and Walter Afanasieff.
The back story: After her five-year stint in Las Vegas, Dion gave birth to twins in 2010, then returned to the Colosseum — the $100 million house built for her at Caesars Palace — the following year to introduce a new show. She'll resume performances in January. Yet the mother of three insists that while her career will go on, her heart is with her children: "I bring them into the studio with me, sing as passionately as possible and then go home as quickly as I can." — Elysa Gardner
The Marshall Mathers LP 2
The buzz: Eminem's eighth album in 17 years references his 2000 tour de force, The Marshall Mathers LP, which sold 10.6 million copies, 1.76 million its first week alone. History's best-selling rapper is unlikely to match those numbers in the piracy age, still, he's rekindling the flame with two singles, old-school Berzerk (with Beastie Boys samples) and guitar-blazed Survival, unveiled in a trailer for video game Call of Duty: Ghosts. Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre are executive producers, and guests include fun.'s Nate Ruess on Headlights, Kendrick Lamar on Love Game and Skyler Grey on A--hole.
The back story: Nobody sold more records in the first decade of the 21st century than Eminem, a critical and commercial titan embraced by every stripe of hip-hop fan. Can he sustain his reign? In 2009, Relapse arrived to underwhelming sales and reviews, but Em rebounded in 2010 with Recovery, which bowed at No. 1 with first-week sales of 741,000 copies and went on to sell 4.5 million copies. Casting MMLP2 as a sequel to the landmark that produced Stan and The Real Slim Shady may seem cocky, but the rapper is packing ammo like The Monster with Rihanna, his duet partner on 2010's Love the Way You Lie, Eminem's biggest hit to date. Closing six minutes of rap-fire rhymes on the career-chronicling Rap God, he recognizes the challenge that "even you unsigned rappers are hungry, looking at me like it's lunchtime." — Edna Gundersen
The buzz: The provocative rapper, who blends hip-hop, electronica, dance and world music into her politically charged tunes, hoped to unleash her fourth album in late 2012 and threatened to leak it online after the label, which asked her to re-record some material, repeatedly delayed the release. Recording in New York, Los Angeles, London and elsewhere, M.I.A. produced Matangi with Surkin, Switch and Danja. Tracks include first single Bring the Noize, the Bollywood-tinged Only 1 U, the YouTube-posted Come Walk With Me and Bad Girls, initially issued on her 2010 Vicki Leekx mixtape. A 2012 Bad Girls video, directed by Romain Gavras, was nominated for video of the year at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards.
The back story: Born in London and raised in Sri Lanka, Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam launched her recording career in 2002 and quickly shot to fame as an eccentric and influential force in rap and electronic realms. Time anointed her one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2010, the year third album Maya entered Billboard at No. 9. No stranger to controversy, she's embroiled in a battle with the NFL, which sued her for $1.5 million for hoisting her middle finger during a Super Bowl appearance with Madonna in 2012. — Gundersen
The buzz: The buzz around Lady Gaga's Artpop is more like a beehive the size of a house with bees the size of basketballs. It's been two years since her last album Born This Way came out; her Little Monsters are hungry. But Mama Gaga provides: She posted her Artpop track list on social media with a photo of a mural that fans spray-painted outside her studio. The album art was unveiled on billboards in 12 cities around the world. She chatted with her fans via Twitter. With so much noise surrounding the big finish, the pressure is on: That album better be good.
The back story: After several years of false starts, Lady Gaga (aka Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta)landed at Interscope Records as a songwriter after meeting Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine. Many shocking hats, disturbing hairdos and a meat dress later, she's a multiplatinum Grammy winner and one of the most recognizable names in music. — Korina Lopez
The buzz: The British boy band returns with its third studio album, barely a year after Take Me Home topped the charts. Singles Best Song Ever and Story of My LIfe — as well as a leaked track, Diana — suggest the group's irrepressible pop will have more of a rock edge than on previous outings. The album contains 14 tracks, with a deluxe edition offering four more, and fans who pre-order Midnight Memories through iTunes will get four downloads from the album before its release date.
The back story: Since finishing third on the British edition of The X Factor in 2010, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson have become an international sensation, racking up more than 32 millionin sales worldwide. In addition to the albums, they've kept up a steady stream of projects to keep Directioners engaged, including the summer's One Direction: This Is Us documentary and 1D Day, a seven-hour live webcast from Los Angeles on the Saturday preceding the album's release. — Brian Mansfield
The buzz: "It's about life, it's about me," Chris Brown recently told USA TODAY about his repeatedly delayed sixth studio album, which favors retro R&B influences over electronica stamps. Drawing from a pool of 50 songs, Brown took cues from Quincy Jones, inviting a variety of writers and producers to "vibe off each other." He collaborates with Timbaland, Danja, Diplo and BAM, among others, and pairs with Nicki Minaj on latest single Love More. Roccstar and PK produced first single Fine China, a nod to Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke. The title track, which finds the notoriously volatile Brown rebuffing taunts so he can rejoin a party, reflects "my mentality," he says. "I'm focused on my path, on being more positive and on the up-and-up."
The back story: Since breaking through in 2005 with his self-titled debut and chart-topping hit Run It!, Brown has seen his career founder and flourish. It flatlined after a 2009 felony assault charge for battering girlfriend Rihanna, then re-ignited with 2011's Grammy-winning F.A.M.E. and last year's Fortune, which entered Billboard at No. 1. While occasionally making headlines for his temper (tussles with Drake and Frank Ocean), Brown has buried himself in projects, from recent breakdancing film Battle of the Year and his graffiti-inspired paintings to the long-gestating X. — Gundersen
The buzz: Just when we've grown sick of Ms. Cyrus and pretty much forgotten La Lohan, here comes Mouseketeer-turned-train-wreck-turned-mega-selling-comeback-artist Spears with her eighth studio album. It's the dance-pop vet's first since 2011's Femme Fatale, which spawned three top 10 singles. Spears' camp is keeping most details under wraps, perhaps feeling burned by the September leak of first single Work Bitch. That EDM-influenced song entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 12 and sold 174,000 copies in its first week of release. The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am was a co-writer and co-producer on the single and helped produce the album, according to Billboard. Spears has said the album will be her most personal work; a song called Perfume, written by Sia, is expected to be the next single.
The back story: Soon to be 32, a mother of two and on her own following a split from fiancé Jason Trawick earlier this year, Spears has a lot riding on this release: On Dec. 27, she begins a two-year residency at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas with a show called Britney: Piece of Me. And she signaled a mature turn toward the serious recently when she asked her Facebook followers to submit their personal "Get to Work (Bitch)'' stories detailing their volunteerism and self-improvement efforts. You go, girl. — Jerry Shriver
The buzz: Originally set for release in November, the date has been pushed back for last-minute tweaks in the studio. While R. Kelly's most recent works have adopted a softer approach to romance, with the emotionally vulnerable Trapped in the Closet and Love Letter, the track list for his 12th album suggests he's taken a decidedly lurid turn (Girls Kissing Girls and Sex Genius are two of the tamer titles). This album probably isn't for the faint of heart and definitely not one to play at family gatherings.
The back story: With multiple Grammy Awards (for I Believe I Can Fly) and unrivaled success as a singer, R. Kelly seemed unstoppable. But since a video emerged in 2002 that showed him having sex with an underage girl, his image took a massive hit. Once the reigning king of R&B, R. Kelly now has to cope with younger artists such as Chris Brown and Trey Songz circling the throne. Can he hold onto his proverbial crown? — Lopez
ALSO ON THE WAY
James Blunt, Moon Landing
Luscious Jackson, Magic Hour
Avril Lavigne, Avril Lavigne
The Wanted, Word of Mouth
Il Divo, A Musical Affair
Blue Rodeo, In Our Nature
Katey Sagal, Covered
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack
Five Finger Death Punch, The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 2
Herb Alpert, Steppin' Out
Jake Bugg, Shangri-La
Toni Braxton and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Love, Marriage & Divorce
Boston, Life, Love & Hope
Childish Gambino, Because the Internet
Rick Ross, Mastermind
B.o.B., Underground Luxury