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The fall albums we can't wait to hear

The Fugees reunite, Madonna hits the dancefloor, and OutKast do ragtime: Get details on fall discs by these artists and others

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Madonna
Madonna: REUTERS/Ian Hodgson /Landov

Madonna
Image credit: Madonna: REUTERS/Ian Hodgson /Landov

Madonna

Confessions on a Dance Floor (Nov. 15)

Why is someone whose last album contained an embarrassing rap about a roomful of Pilates hotties on this list? Easy: We know better than to underestimate Madonna’s ability to craft dazzling pop. Her latest album trades folktronica for high-octane, hook-savvy dance music, as evidenced by the ABBA-sampling first single, ”Hung Up,” a throbbing blend of Giorgio Moroder, New Order, and fun-loving Ciccone youth.

Outkast
Image credit: OutKast: Matt Doyle/ContourPhotos.com

OutKast

Not yet titled (Dec. 6)

There are artists whose albums provoke prerelease excitement. And then there’s OutKast, a rare (lone?) breed of multiplatinum risk taker that automatically earns our hard-earned $15 without delivering even a single lick of new music. ”With us it’s expect the unexpected,” says Big Boi of the follow-up to 2003’s Grammy-winning Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. ”I can’t really put it into words.”

Okay, then, we’ll give it a shot. The duo’s sixth studio album is also the soundtrack to their very own movie-musical vehicle — tentatively titled Idlewild (due in January) — budgeted at roughly $30 million and set in the 1930s South. (In addition to OutKast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000, it stars Terrence Howard, Cicely Tyson, Ben Vereen, and Patti LaBelle.) ”Dre plays the son of a mortician and my character is the star performer at the club in the town of Idlewild,” says Big Boi. ”And then something happens and…I can’t tell you!” Okay, spoiler-phobe, but what’s the music like? Possible first single ”Idlewild Blues” is ”based in ragtime, ’20s and ’30s era,” he says. ”We dip into a bit of everything — ballads, up-tempos, blues, gospel — and put it together like Frankenstein.” An innovative album attached to a movie musical: Are we looking at a triumph of Purple Rain-ian proportions? ”That’s what people been saying,” says Big Boi. ”It’s definitely not our Under the Cherry Moon.”

Franz Ferdinand
Image credit: Franz Ferdinand: Tom Corbett/Corbis Outline

Franz Ferdinand

You Could Have It So Much Better… (Oct. 4)

How do you follow up a debut album that sold more than 3 million copies worldwide? Not very carefully, says singer Alex Kapranos: ”If I’m diving off the high board, I’ll just go, ‘F—in’ hell, this is high! Great, just do it.’ That’s how I am with this record.” Luckily, the CD is just as dynamic as its predecessor. Disco-punk single ”Do You Want To” is impossible to dislike, and the sophomore slump seems, weeks before release, to be well thwarted. High dive, indeed.

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Ashlee Simpson
Image credit: Ashlee Simpson: Kwaku Alston/Corbis Outline

Ashlee Simpson

I Am Me (Oct. 18)

Though Simpson became a nationwide punchline after that SNL lip-synching kerfuffle, we’re not ashamed to admit our fondness for her triple-platinum debut, a sweet-and-tart mix of Joan Jett snarl and bubblegum-pop kicks. Thankfully, her follow-up doesn’t stray from the script. The new-wavey first single has a spiky riff that should make Hot Hot Heat jealous, as well as lyrics that may or may not address a rumored spat with Lindsay Lohan. (”It’s just a situation I went through,” she says. ”I don’t wanna talk about who.”)

Unsurprisingly, matters of the heart remain her fave topic, though two tracks address the emotional aftermath of the SNL debacle. There’s even a disco-friendly cut called ”L.O.V.E.” ”It’s just something that’s on my mind all the time,” she says. ”I’m a young, 20-year-old girl, and love is, like, the key thing in my life.” Better that than a camera crew, right?

Fugees
Image credit: Fugees: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Fugees

Not yet titled (Dec. 27)

Nearly a decade after the trio’s multiplatinum The Score, a new Fugees album is finally in the works. According to Pras (right), the trio (which also includes Lauryn Hill, center, and Wyclef Jean, left) entered the studio just two months ago, and so far things are moving somewhat slowly. ”Progress is being made,” he says, ”but the vibe has to be right. We don’t believe in pressure.” At least one track is completed, a midtempo ”club number” called ”Take It Easy,” which is slated to be the first single. Why the slow pace? ”For this to work, we’ve got to be in a good space,” says Pras. ”Making records is like therapy for us. We have to get back into the zone with one another after all the pain and aggravation and everything that’s gone on between us.” The Fugees’ label promises a CD will hit stores by year’s end. Our fingers are crossed.

Depeche Mode
Image credit: Depeche Mode: Spiros Politis/RetnaUK

Depeche Mode

Playing the Angel (Oct. 18)

The Personal Jesus to a million kids in eyeliner and oxblood Docs, lead singer Dave Gahan is now (can it be?) 25 years into his king-of-pain reign. This fall, he and his band of un-merry men return to what they do best: transforming synths, guitars, and hollow-soul vocals into instruments of gorgeous doom. Time (and Gahan’s hard-earned sobriety) may have mellowed them a bit, but Angel should prove that it’s more than just the leather pants that still fit like second skin.

Shakira
Image credit: Shakira: James Patrick/Retna

Shakira

Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 (Nov. 29)

When not rolling around in mud or thick, black oil, Shakira likes to write songs. In fact, since the explosion of her 2001 English-language breakthrough, Laundry Service, she’s written more than 60 of them. In June, she released a bunch as the Spanish-language Fijación Oral, Vol. 1. Now comes the English follow-up, with all-new tracks and a collaboration with Carlos Santana. Too bad a rumored cover of Nirvana’s ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” turned out to be untrue. Maybe for Vol. 3?

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Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys

Unplugged (Oct. 11)

The success — and grueling promotional schedule — of her sophomore album, 2003’s The Diary of Alicia Keys, means the R&B powerhouse won’t have a new studio album out until next year. In the meantime, Keys documents her vastly improved performing chops on this concert CD and DVD. While the disc boasts a pair of brand-new tunes and a hip-hop-heavy finale featuring Common, Mos Def, and Damian Marley, you’ll really flip for the impeccably tight vintage-soul arrangements from Keys’ 18-member ensemble.

Liz Phair
Image credit: Liz Phair: Steven Dewell/Retna

Liz Phair

Somebody’s Miracle (Oct. 4)

On her previous, self-titled album, Phair said ciao to the cool crowd and fully embraced pop — a polarizing move that had some critics cheering and others rigging up the whipping post. With Miracle, ”I’m inclined to think it’ll piss off fewer people,” she says. ”It’s less sensationalistic, less check-it-out! splashy. It’s more affectionate than that.” And, yes, ”mature.” She’s pretty well exiled from Exile in Guyville‘s ethos. ”I did think to myself, what is it that [the last album’s detractors] really missed? So I tried to provide that side of my art in the stories. But in many ways, I can’t take into consideration what they said, because it would be like trying to be 25 when you’re not anymore.”

Bo Bice
Image credit: Bo Bice: David Atlas/ Retna

Also Due…

OCTOBER My Morning Jacket, The Magic Numbers, Animal Collective, DangerDoom, Twista, Atmosphere, Joggers, James Blunt, Jamie Cullum, Dwele, Jimmy Eat World, Broken Social Scene, Nickelback, the Go! Team, Sara Evans, O.A.R., Sinéad O’Connor, Ozzy Osbourne, Trina, Gang of Four, Ricky Martin, Dolly Parton, Journey, Jackson Browne, Rev Run, Rod Stewart, Sevendust, t.A.T.u, Paul Weller, Martina McBride, Story of the Year, Thrice, Il Divo, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Gary Allan

NOVEMBER Bo Bice (pictured), Neil Diamond, Kate Bush, Pharrell, System of a Down, Fatlip, Trey Anastasio, Jamie Foxx, Wilco (live), Big & Rich, Diana Krall, Santana, Kenny Chesney, Enya, Floetry, Cyndi Lauper, Carrie Underwood, Jessica Simpson, Scott Stapp, the Darkness, Limp Bizkit, Fort Minor

DECEMBER Ghostface, P.O.D., Hoobastank, Nellie McKay, Ryan Adams, Mary J. Blige, Korn

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