One thing a new year brings more than anything else is promise. Whether you feel as though this is the year you’ll get that book deal you’ve been dreaming of, or that the cross-country road trip you’ve been planning for the past two years will finally happen THIS summer, the future, much like Natasha Bedingfield sang about in that Pantene commercial, is unwritten.

With release dates only set a couple of months in the future, this is also the time of the year that music fans dream about that long-awaited album by their favorite artist finally surfacing. I got the idea to put together this column after listening to the most recent album by a rap trio who have taken way too long to release new product, and realized that we could fairly easily think of artists who need to get their asses in the studio (if they’re not already there) and bless their fans with some new material. Some of these artists are still at the peak of their powers and will hopefully continue a tradition of making great music, while others are on the comeback trail, hoping to win back their fans after a stint of mediocrity.

Big Money:

Fiona Apple: (TBD)

Everyone’s favorite piano-playin’ crazy lady reportedly spent a good chunk of 2011 in the studio with right-hand man Jon Brion, but apparently the folks at her record company, Epic, are playing hardball, in similar fashion to the politricks that led to the lengthy delay of her third album, Extraordinary Machine.  And y’all wonder why she’s so angsty. I would think that given the success of Adele, folks might be a little more eager to wager on the success of a female singer who goes a bit against the grain when it comes to pop trends. Then again, I doubt Fiona would acquiesce to co-writing a song with the dude from OneRepublic.

De La Soul: (TBD)

The most underrated group in hip-hop HISTORY…victims of being aligned with a shitty label throughout their career, and perhaps also victims of their loyalty to one another. Without an identifiable multi-media personality like Q-Tip, De La has fallen victim to the fringes although their catalog holds up favorably against Tribe’s or any other group in hip-hop history, possibly barring The Roots (and I’d be willing to argue that DLS’s discography is better.) Pos and Dave (and sometimes Maseo) have not released an official studio album since 2004. Time to drop another gem and show these young knuckleheads how it’s done!

Maxwell: (TBD)

We waited nearly a decade for BLACKsummer’s night, and the promise (at the time) was that there would be subsequent albums released in 2010 and 2011. That hasn’t happened. Much like his spiritual brethren (and occasional collaborators) in Sade, Max seems to be perfectly willing to take his sweet damn time in between albums. And it’s not like there aren’t tons of great R&B albums out these days, from artists commercially celebrated (MJB, Anthony Hamilton) and critically acclaimed (Van Hunt, Rahsaan Patterson.) Still, the bedroom soundtrack needs an update. Hook it up, Maxwell.

John Mayer:

Battle Studies was one of the most disappointing albums I can remember purchasing in the past two or three years. Truthfully, it’s not an altogether shitty album. It’s just a massive letdown after the absolute genius that was Continuum: an album so good that it shut many of my friends and associates who’d previously been Mayer-haters up. In the immediate aftermath of Battle Studies, Mayer spent a healthy amount of time putting his foot in his mouth, as well as growing a mustache that made him look like Captain Jack Sparrow’s greasy younger brother. He’s been silenced recently due to Adele-esque throat issues, but let’s hope the time off provides him with a bit of time to fine-tune an album that restores him to glory.

Brittany:

Jamie Cullum (TBD)-
Okay, I realize since the time Jamie Cullum released his last album, The Pursuit (2009), he’s gotten married to Sophie Dahl and had a baby, but is that really any excuse for him not to release more beautiful music? Cullum’s brand of modern-jazz makes him one of my absolute favorite musicians and even though his last release was amazing, I’m still ready for some new jams. There hasn’t been much word on a new album, despite the occasional tweets from Cullum about being in the studio and recording, but it’s about time we have a new album of innovate remakes of jazz standards, and catchy original tunes from my favorite piano man.

Sufjan Stevens-TBD
Sufjan Stevens’ last album, The Age of Adz, was released in 2010, and I’ve been listening to it almost non-stop ever since. Even the 25-minute masterpiece, “Impossible Soul”, that ends the album hasn’t done enough to whet my Sufjan Stevens appetite. Though I’ve given up hope that Stevens will ever complete his ambitious 50 States Project (back in 2003, Stevens announced that he was intending to write an album about each of the fifty United States; he’s done Michigan and Illinois so far, but admitted in 2009 that it may have been a “promotional gimmick”. Guess I’ll never get a Nevada album), I’m still ready for some new material. There’s been absolutely NO word on any new music, though Stevens did drop the All Delighted People EP in 2010 without any forewarning, either, so I’m remaining hopeful that he’ll do another shocker and release a full-length album sometime this year, too. Until then, I’ll just listen to Adz on repeat for the next couple of months.

Chuck (who went way off of any proposed schedule and actually asked for two classic groups to reform):

A Tribe Called Quest (TBD-doubtful)

Hip Hop needs an enema!!

If ever a time and genre existed that sorely needed a truly transcendent album I would state that that time is now and that genre is Hip Hop.

For that album to be made, it would require a person or group capable of the gargantuan task of, in my mind, saving Hip Hop.
I would argue that without a doubt that album must be created by A Tribe Called Quest. Look, it’s 2012, and I’m too old and cranky to hold back punches….straight up, Hip Hop sucks right now. Suffering from a severe allergic reaction to itself, Hip Hop needs an epi-pen type shot in the arm. A combination of skill, intelligence and positivity with a touch of nostalgia brought by Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg and Jarobi will get the job done nicely. A-E-I-O-U….and sometimes Y. I believe without their reuniting and dropping this album that Hip Hop, the last great american-borne musical style is doomed to certain irrelevance, or worse….continued overt corniness.

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit for effect….but just a tiny bit. Hip Hop does need Tribe, and I believe that logistically it can happen, as early as this year. Fresh on the heels of last years release of the great documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Life” the time seems right and the stage seems set for an epic return by the games greatest of all time. Think Jordan coming back and dropping those double nickels on the Knicks. Not to mention the fact that the group does have 1 album remaining on their current contract. What better way to fulfill the demands of the contract by joining forces one more time, dropping a classic and saving Hip Hop! All in a days work. We need A Tribe Called Quest to once again rock from Linden Boulevard, to Tallahassee, Spokane, London & Tokyo. Come on guys, get it together, Hip Hop needs you……you’re our only hope!

Leaders of The New School (TBD-REALLY unlikely)

This one is strictly for me and for the closure that I need in my life to move on. Leaders of The New School hit the scene like a comet in the early 1990’s. They were brilliant, bright as a hot flash in the sky……but all too soon they burned out. The break up between Dinco D, Charlie Brown, Cut Monitor Milo and Busta Rhymes was huge and robbed Hip Hop’s greatest era of even more greatness. Sure, Busta Rhymes went on to gain huge solo success, (but you don’t want to know what I think about that)….actually, nah I said it’s 2012 and I’m not holding back. I always felt like Bustas solo efforts were completely wack and corny. A fabricated mixture of Hype Williams style big-time videos, and Busta’s dungeon dragon lyrical style to me were always more schtick than skill. Where’s the Beef type stuff. Bitter? Maybe I am. The magic of L.O.N.S. for me always lay in their configuration, their sum as a unit in whole. Busta’s style, when confined to 1-2 verses per track, combined with the sing/song playful flow of C. Brown, and Dinco D as the straight rhymer all meshed perfectly and made for really great music. They were a true unit that fed off of each other creatively, combining to form a perfect team. Today, as back then, Hip Hop needs that team, and that playful innocence restored. Present day Hip Hop would do well to ensure their future by drawing from its rich past. A New Leaders of The New School album in 2012 would go a long way to bringing both fun and positivity back to the game.

Koomdogg:

Van Halen—Untitled (release date: Feb. 7)

Without a doubt, my most anticipated album of 2012 will be the new Van Halen release, the first with singer David Lee Roth since 1984 (not counting two songs recorded for a greatest hits comp in ’96); the band’s last studio release was Van Halen III with Gary Cherone on vocals in 1998.

The group reunited for a tour in 2007 and rumors have swirled about the recording of a new album for the last year. While by all accounts, the last VH tour was a success (although original bassist Michael Anthony was unceremoniously booted by Eddie Van Halen and replaced by Eddie’s son Wolfgang), questions remain about whether the band can deliver a studio album that will rival the six albums it released with Roth from 1978-84. Roth’s replacement, Sammy Hagar, has gleefully spent the last several months taking potshots at VH, through his recently released autobiography and in media appearances.

Throughout it all, the VH camp had been silent until last week, when it announced that tickets for a new tour would go on sale on Jan. 10 and the new album would be out in February. News reports say the band’s new single is called “Tattoo” and due out on Jan. 10 and that the tour starts in February. Can DLR still deliver the classic screams and one-liners? Will the songs hold up? What will Eddie’s guitar sound like? Can Wolfgang actually play bass? I, for one, don’t have high hopes, but I can’t wait to find out.

Mark Lanegan Band—Blues Funeral (Feb. 7)

Unlike David Lee Roth, Mark Lanegan has been a busy boy since his defining band broke up. He emerged on the rock scene in the late ‘80s with the Screaming Trees, who rode the grunge wave to popularity in the early ‘90s. The Trees split up in 2000, but Lanegan had already released four excellent solo albums that served as showcases for his gravelly, soulful vocals.

He also began what would become a pattern for him of making guest appearances on other artists’ albums, including the Twilight Singers, Soulsavers, and Queens of the Stone Age, a band that he actually joined for a few years. His last solo album was 2004’s Bubblegum, which featured appearances from PJ Harvey, Josh Homme, Greg Dulli, Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin. Since then, he joined Dulli as half of The Gutter Twins and released three albums with Isobel Campbell that showcased the quieter side of his vocal style, which only seems to be getting better with age.

The first single from his upcoming album, “The Gravedigger’s Song,” is a driving, dark instant classic that bodes well for the new release. The album was recorded with Alain Johannes (QOTSA, Eleven) and features appearances from Dulli, Homme and Jack Irons. Lanegan is a criminally unheralded vocal genius; any new album we get from him is worth the wait.

Soundgarden—Untitled (TBD)
One of the best bands to emerge from the Seattle scene in the late ‘80s, Soundgarden split up in 1997 and didn’t reunite until 2010, playing a secret show and later playing Lollapalooza, and then more dates in 2011.

In the intervening years, singer Chris Cornell released three solo albums and joined three members of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave. While there were some good moments, nothing he did came close to the heights he reached in Soundgarden. At his lowest was the 2009 album Play, on which Cornell worked with producer Timbaland to try and cross over to a pop/R&B audience; however, the album flopped and earned him criticism from fans of his previous work. Not surprisingly, the Soundgarden reunion followed soon afterward.

Drummer Matt Cameron has been a member of Pearl Jam since 2000, but guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd have been relatively quiet over the years, working on sporadic projects but mainly staying out of the spotlight. In recent interviews, both Cornell and Thayil say the new album (which could be out this spring) isn’t a radical departure from the classic Soundgarden sound. Judging from the reunion shows, Cornell still looks and sounds just as he did in the late ‘90s and Thayil still delivers the heavier-than-heavy riffs that made Soundgarden a monster act in the ‘90s. With any luck, they’ll be able to pick up where they left off.

Mike A.

Jason Lytle: Department Of Disappearance (TBD)

Ex-Grandaddy mastermind Jason Lytle is deep into work on his second solo album since disbanding the indie rock favorites. Tentatively titled “Department Of Disappearance”, it looks to be coming some time in the spring, once again on the Anti- Records label. Grandaddy quickly became my favorite band after seeing them open for Coldplay back in 2001. I went to the show anticipating Coldplay’s first ever Detroit show and came away with my mind blown by the opening act. Lytle has yet to disappoint, so this one is at the top of my most anticipated list.

Pet Shop Boys-Multiple Albums (February 6th & TBD)

Synth-pop legends the Pet Shop Boys are poised for a big year. On February 6th they’ll release “Format”, a two disc, 38 track compilation of all their B-sides from 1996-2009. This picks up where 1995’s B-side compilation “Alternative” left off, and as any PSB fan knows, their B-sides are often as essential as their album tracks. No word yet on a U.S. release, but “Format” can be easily imported from Amazon, CD Universe and the like. The duo are also at work on their eleventh studio album, currently slated for a fall 2012 release. Hopefully it represents a return to form after 2009’s disappointing “Yes”.

Prince-TBD

And, lastly, I’m hearing Prince has plans for a new album release in 2012. Details, of course, are sketchy as to what will be on it and Prince certainly has been known to change his mind. But seeing as how his last album, “20Ten”, was never even released Stateside, he’s overdue for a new full length and I’m being told to expect one.

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