The season in music will be a busy one. Big-name acts of long standing, including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the reunited Beach Boys and, it's expected, the Rolling Stones will be on tour. And Super Bowl headliner Madonna and agit-pop singer M.I.A. will be releasing new albums. Here is a selection of eagerly anticipated albums:
Lana Del Rey, Born to Die, went on sale Tuesday: Does Del Rey have just one great song in her? The debut album by the artist who used to call herself Lizzy Grant will answer the question. With her woozy, narcotic, addictive Video Games, the singer jacked up expectations, but a lifeless performance on Saturday Night Live has hushed her buzz considerably.
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Sharon Van Etten, Tramp, Feb. 7: Brooklyn songwriter Van Etten kick-started her career in 2010 with her haunting song Love More. Her third album backs up her luxurious voice most effectively without losing the intimacy that can bring a listener up short.
Paul McCartney, Kisses on the Bottom, Feb. 7: The title, not as pervy as you might think, comes from the 1935 Fats Waller hit I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter. It's one of the 14 pre-rock 'n' roll-era covers on the cute Beatle's new album, which expands on the show-tune proclivities he demonstrated as far back as 1963's cover of Till There Was You.
Van Halen, A Different Kind of Truth, Feb. 7: Anyone who saw the 2007 Van Halen tour in which genius of camp David Lee Roth came back into the fold knows that these '80s rockers can be ridiculously entertaining. But are they capable of making worthwhile new music? Early signs are inconclusive.
Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror, Feb. 21: With their 2010 debut Treats, the confrontational noise-pop duo of guitarist-producer Derek Miller and charismatic frontwoman Alexis Krauss made one of the year's best albums, marrying aggressive hip-hop production and cathartic power chords with catchy pop tunes. They're back with Reign of Terror, which has been hyped as having an even heavier sound. That claim has been borne out on the singles Born to Lose and Comeback Kid.
Chiddy Bang, Breakfast, Feb. 28: The hip-pop duo Chiddy Bang first caused a commotion with its 2010 MGMT-sampling single Opposite of Adults. The group, known for sampling Sufjan Stevens and other alternative acts, will finally let loose its full-length debut, with renewed momentum from the single Ray Charles.
New Multitudes, Feb. 28: Woody Guthrie sure left a lot of lyrics behind. Jay Farrar of Son Volt, Will Johnson of Centro-matic, Anders Parker and Louisville native Jim James of My Morning Jacket (under his pseudonym Yim Yames) go where Wilco and Billy Bragg have gone in converting old Guthrie lyrics into ringing new folk-rock songs on their self-titled album New Multitudes.
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball, March 6: Advance word on Springsteen's 17th album is that it's aggressive and angry in a presumably political way. The anthemic We Take Care of Our Own would seem to underscore that, although its intentionally ambiguous chorus leaves itself open to Born in the U.S.A.-style misinterpretation.
The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, March 6: Ever since the wondrous three-CD 69 Love Songs in 1999, fans have hoped that pop-savant sourpuss Stephin Merritt would again apply his funereal voice to such irresistibly droll synth-pop nuggets. Judging by the song Andrew in Drag, this could be the time.
The Shins, Port of Morrow, March 20: After the diversion of his Broken Bells side project with Danger Mouse, Shins leader James Mercer is back in action with Port of Morrow. Its first single, Simple Song, is an encouraging blast of aggressive power pop from the Portland, Ore., band.
Amadou & Mariam, Folila, March 27: The "Blind Couple of Mali," who make effervescently pleasing music that reaches across geographic and musical borders, return with an album recorded in New York and Bamako. It features contributions from Santigold and members of TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Nicki Minaj, Pink Frid ay: Roman Reloaded, April 3: This one's not an expanded version of Minaj's 2011 debut, Pink Friday, but a full-length showcase for the furiously foul-mouthed rapper's raging male alter ego, Roman Zolanski. The Trinidad-born rapper's Super Bass was a contender for 2011's song of the year.
Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream, April 10: Raitt has been a redheaded stranger of late, but the singer — one of only two women named on Rolling Stone's list of 100 greatest guitarists — returns with her first album in seven years. Partly produced by Joe Henry, it features songs by Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright and Al Anderson, among others.
Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls, April 10: Southern soul woman Brittany Howard grabs you by the shoulders and rocks you with the force of her vocals on Hold On, the single that ignited a brush fire of buzz for the Alabama Shakes late in 2011. The Muscle Shoals-steeped quartet makes its full-length debut on Dave Matthews' ATO Records.
Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts, early May: Sultry-voiced sweetheart Jones has been busy with musical projects, including her second album with country-covers band the Little Willies. Next up: Little Broken Hearts, with knob-twiddling handled by Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton.
Santigold, Master of Make Believe, TBA: Santigold's genre-splicing debut album came out in 2008, so long ago that it was called Santogold — the name that avant-pop songwriter Santi White went by before she got sued by another Santogold. Master of Make Believe faces the challenge of staying ahead of the future-pop curve, and its first single, Big Mouth, suggests that she'll be up to the challenge.