Fall Music Preview 2013: The 26 Albums You Need to Hear

Rolling Stone

Every year, the music industry kicks into overdrive right around Labor Day. This fall is no exception: Get ready to hear brand-new music from some of your favorite stars – from Arcade Fire's epic return to Lady Gaga's freaked-out pop experiments to Paul McCartney's magical mystery album. Keep reading for the inside scoop on these and 23 more of the biggest, coolest and wildest records of the season.

Album information and dates confirmed as of press time. Reporting by David Browne, Matt Diehl, Jon Dolan, Patrick Doyle, Gavin Edwards, Adam Gold, Andy Greene, Steve Knopper and Simon Vozick-Levinson.

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Photo by MJ Kim

Paul McCartney, 'New' (Fall 2013)

"I'm always loath to say, 'It's a f**king great album, man!'" says Paul McCartney with a laugh. "I try to be modest. But I think you're going to like this one." The star has been laboring for more than a year on his 16th solo studio LP, with help from a dream team of top producers, including Mark Ronson, Adele hitmaker Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns (who has worked with Kings of Leon and Laura Marling). Says McCartney, "It's been a really cool adventure."

He began by getting together with Epworth for some freewheeling sessions. "We just went mad," says McCartney, "throwing ideas at each other."

Next, he joined Johns in London. On their first day together, he recorded a ballad called "Hosannah" to tape using vintage instruments. Recalls Johns, "He walked in with this incredible song, we threw up a couple of microphones, and within four hours we had this great track."

Looking for dance music, McCartney called Ronson, who DJ'd the singer's 2011 wedding to Nancy Shevell. "With Paul, you learn to not ask too many questions," says Ronson. "He came in one day playing some baile funk/moombahton thing, asking, 'How do we get this energy?' Then he played me 'Climax,' by Usher."

McCartney cut more tracks with all three producers, plus Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin) – working everywhere from New York to London's Abbey Road to his home studio in Sussex. After a while, he started to wonder how the eclectic results would fit together. "I thought, 'Uh-oh, it's not a rock album, and it's not an acoustic album,'" McCartney says. "And then I thought back to the Beatles albums: There would be something like 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road?' right next to 'Blackbird,' or 'Something' right next to 'She's So Heavy.' I mean, we really ran the changes! This has turned out a little bit like that. The continuing thing throughout that pulls it all together, I think, is the fact that it's me."

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Photo by Baldur Bragason

Nine Inch Nails, 'Hesitation Marks' (9/3)

Around 18 months ago, Trent Reznor started working on new songs for a Nine Inch Nails greatest-hits set. But he discovered he had more than just a few tracks in him. He thought hard about what was exciting him musically: "Is it rock  bands and guitars, is it noise, is it dance beats and electronics?" Reznor recalls.

Working mostly on a laptop attached to a "drum-machine type of compositional tool," Reznor crafted foreboding electronic textures reminiscent of his recent soundtrack work, although he says 1994's The Downward Spiral was a deliberate touchstone. One thing nobody could have predicted? A cameo by Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, who adds guitar to three songs. Says Reznor, "I thought his style might be so out it would be in, compared to the alien landscapes we were dropping him into."

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Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for New Hope Academy

Sheryl Crow, 'Feels Like Home' (9/10)

In 2011, a few years after Sheryl Crow moved from L.A. to Nashville, she parted ways with longtime label Interscope. "Nobody knew what to do with me," says the 51-year-old singer-songwriter. After encouragement from friend Brad Paisley, she decided to record her first-ever country album, working with a crack team of local session pros – and releasing it on her new label, Warner Bros. Highlights of the set include "Waterproof Mascara," about being a single mom, and "Drinkin'," about boozy nights at home. "I've been doing this for 20 years, and I feel more inspired than ever," Crow says. "The country songwriting format is stupefyingly great. It is intimidating – but so satisfying when you feel you've written a song that's a complete thought without any riffraff."

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Courtesy PFA Media

Keith Urban, 'Fuse' (9/10)

"The thing I was driven to try with this record was to fuse elements together," says the Australian country superstar. After recovering from a vocal-cord injury in 2011, he was itching to push past his usual sounds – so he teamed up with A-list producers like Mike Elizondo (who's worked with everyone from 50 Cent to Fiona Apple). The resulting LP has plenty of Urban's usual stadium-ready hooks, but it also has touches of electro, alt-rock and even industrial music. Says Urban, "I can keep making the same record – but I don't want to do that."

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Courtesy Wondaland Arts Society

Janelle Monae, 'The Electric Lady' (9/10)

"I started thinking about a new 21st-century breed of women," Janelle Monáe says of the process that led to her second album, The Electric Lady. "How does she make love? What are her feelings regarding politics, sexuality, religion, oppression? These questions led me to a portal into the future." The past was pretty important, too – she cites Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone as key inspirations. The disc also features a festival-worthy guest list, with spots from buddies Erykah Badu, Solange and Monáe's "musical icon and mentor," Prince. "Prince doesn't just appear on anybody's album," Monáe says. "To have him be a part of The Electric Lady was incredible – I'm still in disbelief."

To read the rest of the Fall Music Preview 2013: The 26 Albums You need To Hear, go to RollingStone.com
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