Matchbox Twenty

North |

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ROCK

The last decade in pop has seen no shortage of new stars-Gaga! Kanye! Rebecca Black?-but the guys in Matchbox Twenty, who defined (or some say ruined) rock radio in the '90s with hits like "3 AM" and "Push," want to prove they're still viable. So on their first album in 10 years, Rob Thomas and crew play catch-up with a set that digs into everything: gorgeous ballads ("Overjoyed"), synthed-out pop ("Put Your Hands Up"), even white-boy-style ska ("Radio"). While it seems scatterbrained, with the slick touch of longtime producer Matt Serletic, they show they're old pros at the lost art of record making. Sure, Thomas's romantic confessionals can be corny, but the buffed-to-a-sheen ballad "The Way" is a genuinely aching ode to failed love. And when he croons, "When the music's over ... the song stays in your head" on "Parade," he might as well be talking about his own band's gift for hooks.

1 TAYLOR SWIFT, RED

Expect the usual confessionals-she's said there are some "dark" reflections on her relationships-but some new (even '80s-inspired) sounds: Swift teamed with hitmaker Max Martin and Dan Wilson, cowriter of Adele's "Someone Like You." Due Oct. 22.

2 JASON ALDEAN, NIGHT TRAIN

It's one of the most anticipated country releases of 2012 (out Oct. 16), and Aldean delivers. There's no duet with Kelly Clarkson, but there are plenty of roadhouse rockers, misty ballads and a bro-down with pals Luke Bryan and Eric Church.

3 ALICIA KEYS, GIRL ON FIRE

The R&B singer reflects on her life as a new mom and wife with big anthems and soft ballads for her fifth album (out Nov. 27). Longtime collaborators like Babyface return, but expect more edge and electronics thanks to buzzy British producer Jamie XX.

4 AEROSMITH, MUSIC FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION

The boys stopped feuding long enough to revive the heavy rock riffs for their first disc in 11 years (out Nov. 6). There are tearjerkers too: Steven Tyler said "Another Last Goodbye" made him-and daughter Liv-cry.

5. GREEN DAY, ¡UNO!, ¡DOS!, ¡TRE!

After a rock opera, the punks get simple on this trio of records (out 9/25, 11/13 and 1/15), inspired by '60s-style garage rock. Billie Joe Armstrong also sings a touching requiem for Amy Winehouse.

ANITA BAKER

YOU'RE RELEASING YOUR FIRST ALBUM SINCE '05. WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO?

I've been on the road. I took last year off. I'm an empty nester for the first time this month! My sons [Walter, 19, and Eddie, 18] are in college. I'm nervous, excited, scared, happy.

HOW IS IT BEING SINGLE AT 54?

If you're looking for a life partner, it can be daunting. But I have companionship and it's lovely.

WHAT SONG PUTS YOU IN A ROMANTIC MOOD?

Marvin Gaye's "Come Get to This." I could be in CVS, and it'll come on, and I'll need to go be by myself!

WHAT'S YOUR FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH?

My egg-white mask tightens me up. Girl, it's wrong before I put the egg whites on!

ANIMAL COLLECTIVE

Centipede Hz

Not since Phish has a band earned a cult of followers like this crew. And on their latest, the quartet craft incandescent electro-psychedelia with gorgeous harmonies. Cuts like the jittery "Moonjock" pack an anxiety that's arresting.

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CAT POWER

Sun

Chan Marshall has been known to melt down onstage, but on Sun, the songstress sounds, well, sunnier. And she celebrates with tunes that mix electronic beats with her sultry, nicotine-tarred voice, especially on the mysterious "Manhattan."

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IMAGINE DRAGONS

It's Time

Las Vegas natives Imagine Dragons deliver synth-doused rockers perfect for a cruise down the Strip. Best song: "It's Time," an anthem with a rich melody that's infectious but gritty-much like their hometown.

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MELISSA ETHERIDGE

4th Street Feeling

On her 12th studio album, Etheridge reflects on the old days, "when everything I had could fit into my Chevrolet." But this isn't a wistful nostalgia trip: She rips into the blues, injects killer harmonica solos and gets sexy on cuts like "Be Real."

REVIEWED BY K.O. AND J.H.

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MUSIC, MOTHERHOOD & MARRIAGE

ON NEW ALBUM HAVOC AND BRIGHT LIGHTS

Love is in every song. I was dying to write while I was pregnant [with son Ever, 20 months], but I was down for the count every day by 4 p.m. Growing a human being took everything I had.

ON GOING BACK TO WORK

I was at that critical juncture a lot of alpha-career moms reach: "Momhood or careerhood?" I didn't want to choose. So everything became concentrated and deliberate.

ON BEING MARRIED TO RAPPER SOULEYE, 32

I'm a big fan. The honeymoon phase was over about an hour after our [2010] wedding [Laughs]. To be in the game rather than standing on the sidelines is awesome.

ON THEIR SON

He's got a ton of energy and he's a smiley bird. Souleye says when I finish a song at one of my shows, Ever makes the [baby] sign-language sign for "more." It's precious.

ON GROWING UP

I think of the past me as a little sister. I love her! But she could benefit from a couple more showers! [Laughs]

ON HER SECRET OBSESSION

I have a pretty extensive and exciting purse collection: Gucci, Givenchy, Celine, Balenciaga. I built a beautiful closet that looks like a boutique: my dream-come-true room!