Although the surprise releases from Radiohead and Jessie J made February more exciting than I expected, it still pales by comparison with March, which looks downright like a fall month, so packed it is with big-name new releases. A big question mark looms over the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration, which was supposed to come out in March, but now I'm not sure.
Britney Spears - Femme Fatale (March 28). Who'd have thought 12 years ago that the teen pop sensation with the coy #1 single "...Baby One More Time" would still be going strong today? Of course she's one of the hottest properties in pop music, having staged a comeback the last few years after hitting bottom in the 2005-07 timeframe, wracked by bad tabloid press and personal troubles. This album's first single, "Hold It Against Me," became her third #1 hit in 3 years, following "3" and "Womanizer." The producers list reads like a who's-who of contemporary music: Max Martin, Danja, Bloodshy & Avant, Will.I.Am, Rodney Jerkins, and Stargate, among others.
The Strokes - Angles (March 22). The Strokes took an extended 5-year break after their third album, First Impressions of Earth, which was released in 2006 and wasn't quite as successful as their classic 2001 album, Is This It?, or even its positively received 2003 follow-up, Room on Fire. The band has promised this album will be a return to the simple rock sound of their first album that made them among the forerunners of the 2000s indie rock movement. First single, "Under Cover of Darkness," appears to deliver on this promise, bristling with a simple rock melody, low-fi production, scratchy guitars and a catchy tune.
R.E.M. - Collapse into Now (March 7). The Athens, Georgia-based band is now 31 years and 15 albums into its very successful run. Although they faltered a bit with their 2004 album, Around the Sun, they got back on track with the muscular, guitar-driven sound of 2008's Accelerate, an album I liked but didn't love. From what I've heard about this album though, I'm hoping it will be really great. The band has said they want to do something more varied and expansive, as well as personal, which brings to mind their 1992 masterpiece, Automatic for the People. If that's a reference point, it wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Quite a few tracks have already been released off of this, including "It Happened Today," a lovely, layered track that does indeed recall the band's early '90s work, but lean rocker "Mine Smell Like Honey" sounds like the band going even further back.
Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys! (March 7). British alternative rockers Elbow reached a career high with their fourth album, 2008's The Seldom Seen Kid, which won the Mercury Award and became the group's best-selling album. Given that album's success, I would expect this album will sound similar, although the band, which self-produced this album (like their last), said it intends this work to appeal to older fans. First single "Neat Little Rows" sounds like a pretty typical song from them.
The Vaccines - What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? (March 14). The London-based indie rock group finished second on the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll, but that didn't help push their recent single single "Post Break Up Sex," which despite being pretty fun peaked at a lowly #32. But rock bands are about albums, right? So it's still possible they'll be a big hit when this debut comes out. I haven't heard new single "If You Wanna" yet, but I'm looking forward to it, as well as the album.
Avril Lavigne - Goodbye Lullaby (March 7). Four years is a long time to wait for a new pop album, and this one has apparently been in the works for some time, with a release date once scheduled as early as 2009. But it's been a tumultuous time for the Canadian singer, who separated from and divorced her husband, Sum 41 member Deryck Whibley, last year. Butch Walker, who produced hit tracks on her last two albums ("My Happy Ending," "When You're Gone"), contributes only one song here, while the bulk of the album is produced by Lavigne herself; her ex-husband; or Swedish pop producer Max Martin, who helmed the album's first single "What the Hell."
Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth (March 7). British indie folk band best known for their hit "5 Years Time (Sun Sun Sun)," release their third album.
Lupe Fiasco - Lasers (March 8). American rapper comes out with his third album.
Pitbull - Planet Pit (March 8). Following last year's Spanish album, the rapper follows with an English one, featuring current single "Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)" with T-Pain.
The Naked & Famous - Passive Me, Aggressive You (March 14). This New Zealand alternative/electropop band's debut was a big hit down under last year. Now it's gets its UK release, featuring singles "Young Blood" and "Punching in a Dream."
The View - Bread & Circuses (March 14). Scottish band delivers its fourth album.
Rise Against - Endgame (March 15). Sixth album from the American punk rock band.
Chris Brown - F.A.M.E. (March 21). Chris Brown releases his fourth album, featuring hit singles "Yeah 3x," "Deuces" and "Look at Me Now."
Green Day - Awesome as F**k (March 22). Live album from the might rock band featuring mostly songs from 21st Century Breakdown but with some older favorites too.
Panic at the Disco - Vices & Virtues (March 22). Third album from the alternative rock band best known for their hit "I Write Sins Not Tragedies."
Snoop Dogg - Doggumentary (March 8). The rapper a U.S. senator once referred to as "snoopy snoopy poop dog" releases his 11th album, hot on the heels of last year's big hit with Katy Perry, "California Gurls."
A look ahead to April isn't nearly as interesting, but the highlights are shaping up to be Foo Fighters, Alison Krauss, Katy B, Glasvegas and Jamie Woon.