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Previewing new releases from R. Kelly, Cat Power, AC/DC, Ministry, and more.

'Factory' Showroom

KellyIn the wake of several release date changes and amid the ongoing controversy over child pornography allegations, R&B superstar R. Kelly returns this week with his latest Jive album, "Chocolate Factory." The 17-track set comes bundled with a six-track bonus CD, featuring cuts that have been lifted from Kelly's heavily bootlegged but as-yet officially unreleased album "Loveland."

The new album's first single, "Ignition," is No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. In November, the track debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Sales chart, a feat Kelly previously attained with "Bump N' Grind" in 1994 and "You Remind Me of Something" in 1995.

"Chocolate Factory" also includes "The World's Greatest," which first appeared on Interscope's "Ali" soundtrack, as well as "Showdown" featuring Ronald Isley, and alternate mixes of "Ignition" and "Step in the Name of Love."

Among the "Loveland"-derived cuts is "Heaven I Need a Hug," which Kelly released as a one-off single last summer after his first round of child pornography charges. The artist is accused of having sex with a minor, an act allegedly captured on videotape. He faces additional charges in Florida for allegedly possessing 12 photographs of an underage nude girl.

All Powered Up

AC/DCLegendary Australian rock act AC/DC crowns a new deal with Epic this week with remastered, extensively repackaged editions of the albums "Back in Black," "Live" (single- and double-disc versions), "Highway to Hell," "High Voltage,' and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." This first batch features booklets with essays by longtime rock scribes David Fricke and David Wild, among others, unreleased photos, reproductions of vintage newspaper clippings, handwritten song lyrics, magazine covers, and ticket stubs.

Fans can access exclusive extras bundled onto each disc via Sony's proprietary ConnectedD technology, but one thing the new editions do not have is bonus tracks. "We really haven't got a lot of spares lying around," guitarist Malcolm Young says. "We'll go in to do 12, if one or two doesn't make it, we'll go into another batch of ideas that we've got, and maybe do a bit more writing in the studio. We figure if they're not good enough for the album, we're not going to spend all that time trying to make them good."

Another five AC/DC reissues arrive April 8, with yet another batch of five coming May 20. The group is also eyeing its next studio album and a return to the stage. "It's different every night, there's a different slant to it; some nights, things just sound 10 times better than they should be," Young says. "It just gives us that adrenaline charge when we go on. We know we're gonna come off two hours later, but we're pushing it all the way; we build it right through, it's amazing how it happens. It's sort of magical, because you couldn't do it in a rehearsal like that, you need that audience in front, and that's really what gets us going."

'Free' To Be

Cat PowerIt has been three years since Chan Marshall, the one woman mastermind behind Cat Power, released "The Covers Record," and closer to five since her last studio album of original material, "Moon Pix." Although the beguiling artist admits she spent some of the downtime relaxing in faraway locales, she was always writing songs that she knew would someday end up on a new album -- she just didn't know when.

It took a change in her usual methods to nudge the Matador set, "You Are Free," to its completion. Rather than banging out the album in a concentrated block of time as she had done in the past, Marshall recorded in dribs and drabs in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. It was all pursuant to the busy schedule of engineer Adam Kasper, who was simultaneously working on projects with Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.

"He'd be working with them and then the next day I'd be in a hotel room writing songs and getting away from the ones I was there to work on," Marshall says, noting that the album's first ("I Don't Blame You") and last ("Evolution," featuring Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder on vocals) songs were created this way.

The mix of these freshly written tracks and pre-existing older material such as "Good Woman" and "He War" has resulted in one of Marshall's most entrancing collections to date. The set largely favors the spartan instrumental setup utilized on "The Covers Record," as several songs feature only Marshall's ghostly voice and piano or guitar. But elsewhere, she rocks with newfound confidence on "Speak for Me" and "Shaking Paper" (featuring Foo Fighters mainman Dave Grohl on drums). Her idiosyncratic narratives are also on full display throughout, particularly on "Names," a voice-and-piano exorcism of frank childhood memories that was captured on the first take.


MinistryAs Ministry's Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker contemplated their sixth studio album together, the two sought to get back to the blistering sonic form that produced 1988's groundbreaking electro-industrial set "The Land of Rape and Honey" and 1992's influential "Psalm 69." In order to do that, they knew they'd have to cut out the infighting, record company problems, and the creative and chemical input from friends that hampered previous recording sessions.

"Our last record was a nightmare," Barker says of "The Dark Side of the Spoon," the band's final release for Warner Bros. "We were really unhappy with virtually everything." So for "Animositisomina," due this week via Sanctuary, the duo barricaded themselves inside Sonic Ranch, a remote desert studio 30 miles outside El Paso, Texas. Just a short pickup ride from the Rio Grande, the river that separates Texas and Mexico, the location had all the amenities and none of the distractions of big city studios.

The album marks a brutal return to the jackhammer tempos and screaming guitars for which the band is known. From the opening sounds of the heavy metal guitar crunch and distorted vocals of the title track, there's no mistaking Ministry for the legion of lesser imitators.

"Out in the desert we were forced to work, forced to get along, because there was no other options except to sit out in the f***ing desert with the coyotes and the chupacabras and the wild scorpions and s***," Jourgensen says. "It reenergized us and it refocused us." The group begins a European tour Feb. 24 in Amsterdam.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- Def Jam's "Cradle 2 the Grave" soundtrack, which features DMX's "X Gon' Give It to Ya" and "Right/Wrong," plus his collaboration with Eminem and Obie Trice, "Go To Sleep."

-- A new studio album from veteran rock act Styx, "Cyclorama" (Sanctuary).

-- New sets from singer/songwriters Ben Taylor ("Famous Among the Barns," Iris/Ryko) and Dar Williams ("The Beauty of the Rain," Razor & Tie).

-- Albums from a host of acclaimed underground rock acts, including the Go-Betweens ("Bright Yellow, Bright Orange," Jetset), Calexico ("Feast of Wire," Quarterstick), the Dirty Three ("She Has No Strings Apollo," Touch & Go), and the Shipping News ("Three-Four," Quarterstick).

-- Hayseed Dixie's "Kiss My Grass: A Hillbilly Tribute to KISS" (DualTone).

-- The final studio set from avant-garde hip-hop act Anti-Pop Consortium, "Anti-Pop Vs. Matthew Shipp" (Thirsty Ear).

-- A retrospective from Boston jazz/rock trio Morphine, "The Best of 1992-1995" (Rykodisc).

-- A reissue of California hard rock act Pitchfork's "Eucalyptus" (Swami).