It may be warm outside, but as far as the record industry is concerned, if summer vacation is over, it means Christmas is coming. Autumn is the time for big releases and lots of 'em.
There will be superstar CDs, box sets, and greatest hits albums.
The mother of those must be "Forty Licks," the first-ever collection of all the Rolling Stones biggest hits from all their different record companies on two discs.
The Stones have been together now for -- get this -- 40 years. Astonishing but true. What's really astonishing is that for millions of people from now on, this will be their first Rolling Stones record. It's "Satisfaction;" it's "Brown Sugar;" it's "Jumping Jack Flash;" it's "Start Me Up" all in one place. It you don't like this, you don't like rock 'n' roll.
A new British band just starting out on their journey has made a great album. Coldplay are a quartet of private school kids who had a big international hit last year with a song called "Yellow." For their second CD, they were determined to raise the ante and they pull it off. "A Rush of Blood to the Head" is smart, thoughtful, and heartfelt. It's full of a quality that's been in short supply on the pop charts lately -- soul. I don't know if Coldplay will last 40 years, but they're off to a great start.
Between those extremes, you have a range of veterans who began their careers as part of the counter-culture, entered the mainstream at the height of the MTV era in '80s, and who seem to have decided that they liked it better on the outside looking in.
Take Tom Petty. A great rock musician who's sold millions of records and had dozens of hits, but who has been very critical of how everything good seems to have been drained out of rock 'n' roll in recent years. He minces no words on his new album, "The Last DJ," which is a scathing, funny, and sadly accurate indictment of the state of the pop music industry in the new century.
Petty is really taking a chunk out of the hand that feeds him. He sings about looking out at the Gold Circle of VIPs from the stage; he sings about radio conglomerates that dictate that the same songs are heard on stations from coast to coast; and he sings in the voice of a record company CEO explaining the facts of life about a new pop singer: "She gets to be famous, I get to be rich."
Mark Knopfler seems to have the same attitude toward the business as Petty, but his response is very different. When Petty rages against the dying of the light, Knopfler goes out and chops some firewood.
Knopfler was the songwriter, singer, producer, and guitar player in Dire Straits, a group he lost interest in when it got too big. He felt silly playing in football stadiums and competing to get on pop radio, and he had more money than he could ever spend. So he stopped. He retired the Dire Straits name and began making more subtle, homemade records with his attention on craft and musicianship. His new album, "Ragpicker's Dream," is quiet, acoustic, and contemplative. Just the thing for a long autumn night in front of the fireplace.
On especially cold nights, you may throw on another log and put Sinead O'Connor on the CD player. Sinead's new album, "Sean-Nos Nua," is a collection of traditional Irish songs which will remind you that before she made herself a lightning rod for every kind of controversy, Sinead was a great singer. And when all the headlines have faded away, her voice remains her greatest gift. She sings old Irish songs like "Molly Malone" and "I'll Tell Me Ma" as if they were brand new. She makes you hear them with new ears.