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Fall's Gonna Be a Monster

August 21, 1994|Steve Hochman

In this corner, wearing a golden mane and Mickey Mouse shorts, the current album champion . . . "The Lion King"!

And in this corner, the No. 1 challenger, set to wrestle for the pop charts crown, the pride of Athens, Ga. . . . R.E.M.!

Let's get ready to rrrruuuummmmbbbblllle !

Week after week, no one--including the Rolling Stones--has been able to knock "The Lion King" soundtrack album off the top of the pop album charts. But the reign may soon be over as a slew of superstar acts is preparing to release much-anticipated new collections.

Who can dethrone the "King"?

A Pop Eye panel of record retailers, radio programmers and trade magazine pundits is picking R.E.M.'s "Monster" to do the job.

The album, due in stores Sept. 27, is described by those who have heard it as a solid, straight-ahead rock effort with the kind of twists we've come to expect from Michael Stipe and crew. Adding to the fire are huge expectations of the group's first concert tour in more than four years.

But even if R.E.M. doesn't scale those heights, the retailers are licking their chops over a wealth of other releases that could.

Here's how our panel ranks the Top 10 contenders:

1--R.E.M.'s "Monster," Warner Bros. The group's last album, "Automatic for the People," sold 3 million copies without a tour to support it.

2--Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy," Epic, release date to be announced. The Seattle group's album "Vs." set a first-week sales record last October. "You can't doubt the success of Pearl Jam," says Tommy Nast, senior vice president of the music trade publication Album Network.

3--The Eagles' "Hell Freezes Over," Geffen, release date to be announced. "There's a lot of interest in the new songs that will be on the Eagles album," says Jeff Pollack, president of the music consulting firm Pollack Media.

4--Barbra Streisand's "The Concert," Columbia, due Oct. 4. Fans will covet this souvenir of her recent tour--her first in more than two decades and, she says, her last.

5--Eric Clapton's "From the Cradle," Warner Bros., due Sept. 13. The veteran English guitarist, whose "Unplugged" was a big Grammy winner and a No. 1 hit in 1993, returns to his roots with this all-blues collection.

6--Tom Petty's "Wildflowers," Warner Bros., due Oct. 11. "How can you not take the combination of him and (producer) Rick Rubin?" says Nast.

7--Nirvana's "Unplugged," DGC/Geffen. The scarcity of unreleased Nirvana material ups the interest.

8--Kenny G's "Miracles," Arista, due Oct. 25. The mellow sax-man's collection of Christmas standards "will be a monster," says Stan Goman, senior vice president of the Tower chain.

9--Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas," Columbia, due Nov. 1. Another seasonal set.

10--Peter Gabriel's "Secret World Live," Geffen, due Sept. 13. A two-CD in-concert collection from the Woodstock '94 closing act.

Some dark-horse picks include the Black Crowes' "Amorica," the second album from the Cranberries and the second album by Chicago's Liz Phair, whose 1993 debut was No. 1 in the Village Voice's national critics' poll. There were only a few nominations from R&B (Boyz II Men, Anita Baker and Luther Vandross) and rap (Public Enemy and Eazy-E), while Clint Black was the only country act named.

And what about upcoming albums by Sinead O'Connor and Madonna, not to mention a Michael Jackson hits collection spiced with several new songs?

A typical comment about Madonna's still-untitled album, from Bob Bell, the new release buyer for the Wherehouse chain: "She's going to have to make a pretty great record to have a big hit."

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