Fall music preview: 1992 -- Garth Brooks, Madonna, and R.E.M are some of the artists with new albums coming out

If there are three words that drive the music biz during its fourth quarter, they are ho, ho, ho. More than mere rap lyrics, they signify the spirit of gift giving — and to record companies struggling through an abysmal year, possible financial salvation. To you, they mean yet another best-of Foreigner album, boxed sets by people you thought were one-hit wonders, and a surplus of (in industry lingo) ”hot product” hotly vying for your taxed-and-spent fortune. A sampling of what’s coming:

They have so much in common it’s frightening. New second albums, issued by the same company, Interscope Records, appear on the same day, Sept. 15. Both performers are rappers; both are completely willing to take off their shirts at any given opportunity. And their music? Like I said, frightening.

The omnipresent cowboy-hat-wearing chart bugaboo should swiftly zoom another album to the top of the charts with Sept. 22’s The Chase. The first single, ”We Shall Be Free,” is a plea for racial tolerance cowritten by the country sensation after the Rodney King verdict. The Chase, of course, closely follows Brooks’ recent Christmas album, Beyond the Season. Considering that the latter was released in late August, kudos to the marketing whiz who dreamed up the painfully accurate title.

The skinheaded Irish songwriter and warbler extraordinaire releases an album of cover tunes Sept. 22. am i not your girl? features remakes of ”Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” Billie Holiday’s ”Gloomy Sunday,” and Loretta Lynn’s ”Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home,” among others. Considering that O’Connor’s only major hit to date was the Prince-penned ”Nothing Compares 2 U,” an album full of other people’s songs — how to say this politely? — may not be a bad idea.

He’s not exactly a critical fave, but, like, it matters? His overwhelmingly zealous fans have kept his 1989 album Soul Provider on the Billboard charts since its release — not to mention last year’s Time, Love & Tenderness — and should send Sept. 29’s Timeless (The Classics) soaring, too. Expect to hear ”Since I Fell for You” — just one of a whole bunch of sentimental faves, accompanied by an orchestra, no less — until you can stand it no longer.

His last real album (i.e., nonsoundtrack or world-music effort) was 1986’s So, and now Gabriel finally resumes pop-starring with Us, due Sept. 29. Produced by Gabriel and the ubiquitous Daniel Lanois, the album features Gabriel’s trademark spiritual themes set to exotic rhythms. Major expectations abound in the industry.

Alternative megazillas that they are, R.E.M. regally crossed over last year with the No. 1 album Out of Time, scored bonus new fannage with the humfest ”Losing My Religion,” then shrewdly laid off the touring circuit. The consensus: If Oct. 6’s Automatic for the People is only half as good, it’ll go gold in minutes.