Leaves are turning, a cold snap is around the corner, hot soup is again a lunch staple, and football is on every other channel. It’s fall, people, and the usual rites of this season still apply:
Crank up the car radio. Re-stock the iPod. Shop for a new stereo, with speakers big enough to rattle the sheetrock.
Just like movie studios wait until Christmas to unveil their prestige fare, record labels use this time of year to trot out highbrow product, both in stores and on the road. It’s the zenith of a popular music connoisseur’s year, a snooty counterweight to the frivolity of summer.
Get down and listen up.
Perhaps the crown jewel of the fall collection is U2’s eagerly awaited, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.” Bono, The Edge and the gang are reverting back to anger rock, fighting for a cause without the frilly musings of their techno-pop phase. Bono has spent a lot of time in recent years with pet causes, most notably the fight against AIDS in Africa and third-world debt relief. Instead of various side interests disorienting the band, they seem to have refocused U2 with as much passion as ever. When a new U2 album or tour hits the music world, it has the effect of reminding fans that a band can hang around for 20 years or so and do more than trade off nostalgia.
Eminem and Mos Def are rappers turned actors turned rappers again. Their new releases figure to garner the bulk of hip-hop hype in the coming weeks. Eminem cut his first disk, entitled “Encore,” since starring in the film “8 Mile.” Knowing Slim Shady, he’ll have a few choice words for the people in society who bug him, and he’ll do so in explicit fashion, only he’ll ratchet it up a notch or two. Success is unlikely to smooth his edges. Mos Def has taken a more genteel path. He appeared in major motion pictures such as “The Italian Job” and on Broadway in “Topdog/Underdog.” But he’ll get back to his rapping roots with “The New Danger.” This man has more musical influences than Donald Trump has business interests, so the new CD is expected to be, at the very least, intriguing.
Elliott Smith died suddenly last year by his own hand. It’s no surprise that his disk, “From a Basement on a Hill,” is dark, foreboding and full of angst. The topics of substance abuse and depression are woven into the musical fabric, providing a melancholy reminder of Smith’s troubled life and colossal talent.
Interpol has a new effort, “Antics,” in stores. The New York-based indie tribe’s second album is a step forward, with the single “Slow Hands” serving as a rousing spearhead. Interpol wanted this one to be less downcast than its debut release, “Turn on the Bright Lights,” but just the appearance of a new Interpol collection is certain to ensure happier days ahead.
And what would fall be without a Beach Boy? Well, maybe we’re talking a little out of season here, but Brian Wilson’s new album, “Smile,” is a rarity. This was supposed to have been released by the Boys in 1967, but someone in charge nixed the idea. So Wilson decided to dig into the archives, unearth the original songs and re-record them all to his specifications. It’s difficult to say that anything that has taken over 35 years to develop is worth the wait, but this comes close. Wilson is currently in the midst of a concert tour to support “Smile.”
Even though the leaves are turning brown and red, it’s always time for Green Day. “American Idiot” is a theme album, sort of like “Tommy” for punks. There is a political slant, to be sure, but that’s also timely given the season. “Jesus of Suburbia” is one of the breakout numbers here. Green Day is complementing it with a tour that will include both arenas and smaller halls.
If you like autumn with a hint of soul, try on the new work by Destiny’s Child. Beyonce’, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams are true feminists, mixing their careers with … well, other careers. But they managed to get the girl band back together and are clicking with fans on cuts like “Cater To You,” which, given these ladies, might be worth playing more than once.
If you’re back in school this fall, or know somebody who is, and a quest for profundity is underway, then play the new releases from Nas and De La Soul, rappers for the intelligentsia. With “Street’s Disciple,” Nas is harder edged, but provides his insight into more than just the latest hot-tub escapades with stage-door freaks. Ditto for De La Soul, who like Nas is releasing its eighth album, “The Grind Date,” this one delving into topics of maturity and responsibility. At this rate, rappers will soon be railing against the high cost of Medicare.
Some others worth mentioning for your autumn audio pleasure include “The Delivery Man” by Elvis Costello; “Dear Heather” by Leonard Cohen; “Around the Sun” by R.E.M. (currently touring by themselves and with the Vote for Change gang); “Astronaut” by Duran Duran; “Palookaville” by Fatboy Slim; “Shangri-La” by Mark Knopfler; “Futures” by Jimmy Eat World; “Mind, Body & Soul” by Joss Stone; “What a Wonderful World” by LeAnn Rimes, and “Love, Angel, Music Baby” by Gwen Stefani.
Sometimes a single disk just isn’t enough. The Grateful Dead will soon release a 12-CD box set called “Beyond Description,” encompassing works from 1973 through 1989. This is ideal for Deadhead reunions. Since Jerry Garcia passed away, Deadheads have been roaming the country aimlessly, searching for a reason to congregate and dance in place for seven hours at a time. Well, here it is.
Other extensive collections of artists’ material on the way, for better or worse, include Britney Spears’ “Greatest Hits: My Perogative,” “Words & Music: John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits,” “The Best of Everclear: 1994-2004,” Phil Collins’ “Love Songs,” a Jerry Garcia three-CD box set called “After Midnight,” an Annie Lennox “Best Of” compilation, “Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits” by John Denver and “Seven Steps to Heaven: The Complete Columbia Recordings” by Miles Davis.
Choose your music carefully and stockpile it now so you’ll never have to leave the house when winter arrives.
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.