Back to the Future with Duran Duran, Mariah and the Backstreet Boys

Of course Britney Spears was going to be hard to watch and perversely compelling at her live, MTV-orchestrated comedown dance

Of course Britney Spears was going to be hard to watch and perversely compelling at her live, MTV-orchestrated comedown dance number a few weeks back. It’s just that the powers that be expected embarrassment of the left-field, unhinged, ketamine sort—think Ron Paul at a Republican debate. Instead, Brit bravely delivered Bill Richardson on Benadryl: “Sure, I’ll leave some equipment behind, just get us out now, or soon, I guess.”

But that’s the beauty of hitting Amy Winehouse (as opposed to, say, Anna Nicole) rock-bottom: There’s no shame more promising for the fall season than being publicly laughed at by Rihanna, 2007’s ungodly New Wave–R&B C-3PO who would indeed short-circuit beyond all repair if spritzed by the tiniest drop of rainwater. As those fraught Stoli vodka ads admonish, choose authenticity: Ms. Spears’ long-awaited fifth studio album—it of the really quite excellent “Gimme More,” produced by prolific Timbaland apprentice Danja—is still scheduled for a Nov. 13 release, though one can’t help but point out that’s just around the date Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy was supposed to come out last year.

Speaking of Timbaland, and b(f)f Justin Timberlake—it’s unclear who’s whose wingman, but I’m pretty sure the two have contributed more to the G.D.P. than International Paper has the past few quarters—both are said to have lent a hand and/or falsetto on Duran Duran’s Red Carpet Massacre (also Nov. 13). The New Order resurgence was entirely warranted, and the Blondie revival totally overdue, but Le Bon & Co. is truly a synth line too far. If Gen Y sincerely wants to groove to the tunesmiths that accompanied its conception (pretending, for the moment, that our parents were cool), much better to stick to Siouxsie Sioux’s first (!) solo album Mantaray (Oct. 2). Here’s predicting Siouxsie’s time has come: the former proto-goth Banshee provided a major plot point in last year’s Notes on a Scandal—you know, the Oscar nominee about a boy who seduces Cate Blanchett’s irresistible, brittle MILF.

Still, fear not, history hasn’t entirely ended. Now that the interminable Kanye West–50 Cent Sept. 11 pissing contest is out of the way, radio-friendly hip-hop can reassert its rightful place against the barricades. For sure, it’s questionable that an album audaciously titled Voice of the Young People (Oct. 22) is coming from an artist noted for a Dadaesque novelty hit about lip gloss and a nom de guerre that promises maternalism in miniature. But what a Dadaesque novelty hit about lip gloss! Seventeen-year-old Brooklyn M.C. Lil Mama obviated the need for High School Musical 2: Here was the youth in all its mundane glory—postfeminism, post–hookup culture, smart girls will still genitalize their mouths for attention, but only if the S.P.F. is up there and the taste is kind of pleasant too. Lupe Fiasco mined similar, if more outwardly sophisticated, territory on last year’s lovely, languid Food and Liquor. If there’s any justice, sophomore LP The Cool (Nov. 20) will deliver his clever, unassuming raps about age-old petit bourgeois anxieties from the shadows of high-profile patrons Kanye and Pharrell Williams—certainly, Lupe’s the only member of the trio who still seems more fit to roll by on a skateboard than a Segway. To pair The Cool with something decidedly uncool, try In Our Bedroom After the War (Sept. 25) by the Montreal indie pop quintet Stars; in its own way, it’s just as dreamily perceptive regarding the entanglements of being somewhat young and vaguely oppositional in our new urban gilded age.

Now, back to the past. There was, after all, little more emblematic of the utterly preposterous 1990’s than vocal pop’s octave-range arms race. Four octaves! Five! Six! Up and up the numbers went, like so many Pentium megahertz counts. In these more sober times, two of the prime belligerents warble back onstage. Pick your anachronism: Celine Dion’s The Woman in Me (Nov. 13) or Mariah Carey’s as-yet-unnamed 11th album (Nov. 20). Either way, expect more melisma than melodies. Less willfully oblivious alternatives (that’s a good thing) include the actually human-sounding balladeer Keyshia Coles (Just Like You, Sept. 25) and the cooing former chart-topper Ashanti (The Declaration, Dec. 4), still licking her wounds from foolishly betting on Ja Rule during the last 50 Cent gauntlet-throw.

Meanwhile, the brother–sister act the Fiery Furnaces are set to release their sixth full-length, Widow City, on Oct. 9. Once a promising duo, the Furnaces have, on recent releases, devolved into something of a hipster Donny and Marie (that’s not a good thing). At least some things are consistent: Expect the Weakerthans’ Reunion Tour (Sept. 28) to be beautiful, literate, wispily-knowing guitar rock—and to be immediately overshadowed by higher-concept bands with less utilitarian haircuts.

Also, to put Britney’s recent travails in a little perspective, bet you didn’t know there was a Backstreet Boys record coming out soon (Unbreakable, Oct. 30). Back to the Future with Duran Duran, Mariah and the Backstreet Boys