First, the bad news: At 2010's halfway point, total album sales were 11 percent in the toilet compared with 2009, and that's a lot to make up. Internet piracy is still killing the music biz, and a lack of imagination on the pop charts isn't helping matters. And yet, behold a shimmery silver lining in the distance — or at least a blond one. Taylor Swift, who will release her third album, Speak Now, Monday, is the bestselling digital artist in history, with more than 28 million digital tracks sold. She can move product the old-fashioned way, too. Her self-titled 2006 debut had the longest stay on the Billboard 200 by any album released since 1999. Her sophomore record, Fearless, was the best-selling album of 2008 and 2009. Don't believe those innocent eyes: She's a cute, cunning cutthroat, and if anyone can give the biz a big boost, it's Swift. Boy-bashing Tay will have bold-faced musical help turning things around, too. Swift and four other major acts are set to release the most anticipated albums of fall 2010. Here's what has me drooling and tingly:
Top 5 most anticipated albums of the fall
1. Kings of leon, Come around sundown (TUESDAY)
The Tennessee sons (and nephew) of a preacher man are in an interesting position these days. The Followill boys started out as shaggy Southern Gothic oddities. They were cool but weird, talented but niche. Then came 2008's Only by the Night, which gave them the label of "the next U2." That's a heavy prophecy to handle, but new single Radioactive is just that: big, anthemic, but still digging the gospel of home.
2. Taylor swift, Speak Now (MONDAY)
She's essentially critic-proof, which is good, because Speak Now's first few singles, including Mine and Back to December, sound perilously close to every other Taylor Swift song: catchy, earnest, infused with authentic teenage heartache. I like the 20-year-old Pennsylvania gal, and although her voice is thin at times, her gift for songwriting and seduction will only get stronger.
3. N.E.R.D., Nothing (Nov. 2)
There was a time in the early 2000s when everything Pharrell Williams and his Neptunes production team touched turned to gold: Britney's I'm a Slave 4 U, Nelly's Hot in Herre, Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl. Pharrell loved the fame for sure, but he also had a quirkier, kinkier pop aesthetic to explore. N.E.R.D. is his kitchen-sink band, and it's a good one. Pharrell is too smart, too clever to stay off the charts for long. I'm sensing Nothing will be a monster.
4. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Nov. 22)
If only Kanye had something to talk about … Are you ready for the full-on return of the Chicago windbag? Say what you will about Kanye, but he lets his psyche hang out on his albums. First single Power addresses his ego and his enemies; next single Runaway, performed at the MTV VMAs, is a self-lacerating slam at his impulses, including his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift. Things … just … got … interesting.
5. Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (Dec. 7)
Maybe you and your 3,000 Facebook friends heard that lil' hit F--- You? The day-job Gnarls Barkley front man breaks out from cohort Danger Mouse to go it alone. So far, so good. Green merges dark thoughts, throwback effects and funky beats to make a delirious stew. If the rest of The Lady Killer is anything like its profane first single, we're in for a bleepin' treat.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.