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Previewing albums from Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Enrique Iglesias, Jermaine Dupri, and more.

Jackson's Back

Michael JacksonIt's been six years since Michael Jackson released an album of new material. And, befitting the kind of hype that accompanies the self-proclaimed King of Pop's every move, Epic is touting the brand new "Invincible" as "among his best recordings ever." Despite early negative reviews, and a less-than-stellar chart performance of first single "You Rock My World" (which plummeted 29-51 on this week's Billboard Hot 100), Jackson is an artist that is not easily dismissed.

With assistance from producers Rodney Jerkins and Teddy Riley, guitarist Carlos Santana, and even late rapper Notorious B.I.G., Jackson dabbles in balladry ("Break of Dawn"), lashes out at prying journalists ("Privacy"), and adds a little Latin flavor to "Whatever Happens," featuring Santana. There's also the familiar mix of up-tempo tracks such as "Don't Walk Away" and "2000 Watts" that reveal how much the current crop of boy bands owes to Jackson in terms of style.

Regardless of the fortunes of "Invincible," Jackson is keeping himself in the public eye. He recently wrote and orchestrated the star-studded recording of the charity single "What More Can I Give," and his recent all-star New York concerts will be highlighted on a Nov. 13 CBS special. Epic has also issued remastered, expanded editions of Jackson's best known solo albums: "Off the Wall," "Thriller," "Bad," and "Dangerous."

Not 'Lenny'!

Lenny Kravitz"I get hooked on experimenting with different sounds and vibes -- and the opportunity to unlock my subconscious and see what's lurking below the surface," says Lenny Kravitz. "Sometimes, I don't even know where I'm going to wind up once I start the process of making a new record." In fact, the artist admits that he had a completely different creative intention when he began work on "Lenny," due this week on Virgin. "Initially," he says, "I envisioned making a psychedelic-funk album -- real trippy with lots of unusual sounds."

In the end, Kravitz says his muse led him down a more acoustic, straight-ahead rock path. The resulting recording is one of his strongest efforts to date, mostly due to the fact that the listener gets an unfettered view into Kravitz's creative psyche. He offers a collection of concise, well-crafted songs that are driven by easily consumed melodies and hooks. As always, Kravitz convincingly strikes a brash rock-star pose. But new songs like the plaintive "Stillness of Heart" and the riotous, hand-clapping first single "Dig In" (which is No. 13 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart) reveal that he has the soul of an unabashed popster.

Although the artist will spend the remainder of 2001 pursuing performance opportunities on such U.S. TV shows as "Saturday Night Live" and various programs and events throughout Europe, he's not slated to begin his worldwide concert tour until April 2002. The trek will begin in Japan and then wind through Europe before a series of stateside shows in June.

Following 'Instructions'

Jermaine DupriIf anybody is drafting a blueprint for industry longevity and success, it's Jermaine Dupri. The 27-year-old producer/songwriter/artist/entrepreneur drops his sophomore solo album, "Instructions," this week via his Columbia-distributed So So Def label. It's the follow-up to his platinum-certified and Grammy-nominated 1998 debut, "Jermaine Dupri Presents - Life in 1472: The Original Soundtrack."

Dupri raps on nearly every song on the 20-track "Instructions." He and Ludacris open with "Welcome to Atlanta," while Da Brat is showcased on the hot number "You Bring the Freak Out of Me." Xscape, also part of the So So Def family, is featured on "Rock With Me," a melodic pop venture. Usher croons the hook to "Get Some" -- which also spotlights Boo & Gotti and So So Def artist R.O.C. Other notable guests include Jagged Edge, Bilal, Backbone, Kurupt, Too Short, Eddie Cain, and Field Mob.

"When I do a record as an artist, I want to feel like an artist," Dupri says. "I feel like I'm cheating myself if I don't get the full-fledged experience that an artist gets by being directed and letting other people contribute to the album. As a producer, it gives me a chance to work with all these new cats coming out, like Backbone and Field Mob."

Great 'Escape'

Iglesias"Enrique Iglesias admits that the giant-sized rock anthems on his new Interscope album "Escape" may surprise fans of his more ballad-oriented work. "I'm Latin and always will be but my music is not," the artist says. "I've always said my influences are the musicians of the '80s: Dire Straits, the Police, U2, even Bruce Springsteen. I'm going to enjoy singing the songs on this album in concert more than any others because I can see thousands of people singing along."

Iglesias says the way to determine whether certain songs made the final cut was to "play it in any style and [see if it] it still sounds good. The test on 'Don't Turn Off the Lights' was doing it acoustic. We made 'I Will Survive' sound like anything from Run-DMC to disco. We took a lot of time mixing each song. Without a doubt, this is the most detailed album I've ever done."

Although "Escape" revels in more rock-oriented fare, first single "Hero" is already scaling the U.S. charts. The track is No. 2 on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart and No. 5 on The Billboard Hot 100. "There's something special about this song," Iglesias says. "It feels so perfect. It's like a whisper in the ear directly from the heart. I want guys to say, 'That's what I wish I could say to my girlfriend' or a woman to say, 'I wish my guy would say that to me.'"

Misty Watercolor 'Memories'

Lenny Kravitz"Songstress Barbra Streisand releases "Christmas Memories," her first holiday album in 34 years, this week via Columbia. The album will also be the artist's first studio release since 1999's "A Love Like Ours." It features Streisand's interpretations of 12 religious or Christmas-themed songs, including Schubert's "Ave Maria." A version of Gounod's "Ave Maria" was also included on Streisand's 1967 release, "A Christmas Album."

Other songs on "Christmas Memories" include Russell Faith and Clarence Kehner's "Snowbound," Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?," and Stephen Sondheim's "I Remember," to which Sondheim added a new, Christmas-themed verse upon Streisand's request.

"Christmas Memories" was recorded live in the studio with a 90-piece orchestra this past July and August and produced by Streisand with Jay Landers. It's the artist's first album release since she concluded her performing career with four high-profile shows in Los Angeles and New York in September 2000.

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- the first ever hits package from the Backstreet Boys, "Chapter 1" (Jive)

-- a holiday album from R&B trio Destiny's Child, "8 Days of Christmas" (Columbia)

-- rapper Erick Sermon's "Music" (J)

-- an album of various mixes of the all-star charity cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" (Columbia)

-- the Sun Records tribute album "Good Rockin' Tonight" (London/Sire), featuring Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton

-- the 4-CD Cat Stevens boxed set "On the Road to Find Out" (A&M)

-- country artist Joe Diffie's, "In Another World" (Monument)

-- singer/songwriter Alana Davis', "Fortune Cookies" (Elektra)

-- the holiday-themed various artists set "MTV TRL Christmas" (Lava/Atlantic)

-- saxophonist Chris Botti's "Night Sessions" (Columbia)

-- singer/songwriter Eagle Eye Cherry's "Present Future" (MCA)

-- country artist Collin Raye's "Can't Back Down" (Epic)

-- the self-titled debut from Tomahawk, featuring members of Faith No More and Jesus Lizard (Ipecac)

-- hard rock act Kittie's "Oracle" (Artemis)

-- a reissue of VH1 "Bands on the Run" winner Flickerstick's "Welcome Home the Astronauts" (Epic)

-- the soundtrack to the highly anticipated film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (Warner Sunset/Atlantic)


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