Music industry hopes for big sales in bad economy

With consumer confidence in the economy plunging to a record low, the recording industry is bracing for a disappointing holiday season. Nevertheless, the big labels still have some potential aces up their sleeves that might cushion the blow.

Sony BMG is expecting big things from Beyonce, whose last album, “B’Day,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. This time, she takes a big leap with a double-CD set titled “I Am … Sasha Fierce,” due out today. According to the singer, half the album is Beyonce “underneath all the makeup” and the other represents her glamorous alter ego.

As far as chart action is concerned, Britney Spears seems immune to the effects of bad publicity. Sony BMG is hoping her next CD, “Circus,” due Dec. 2 (Jive/ Zomba), will notch her fifth No. 1 album. The first single from the LP, “Womanizer,” is attracting lots of attention not so much for its electro-driven score as for the video in which Britney appears nude in a sauna.

The practice of giving giant big-box stores exclusives continues to gather steam. In the case of AC/DC, whose first new studio album in eight years, “Black Ice,” came out Oct. 20, Sony BMG is distributing it only through Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, betting that Wal-Mart is often the only game in town for CDs in the vast spaces between New York and Los Angeles. The bet is paying off: “Black Ice” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Meanwhile, after many delays, long-slumbering Guns N’ Roses wheels out “Chinese Democracy,” its first album of original material since 1991’s “Use Your Illusion I and II,” this coming Sunday to Best Buy stores only for the Thanksgiving rush week. Universal hopes GNR still has the appeal that has sold some 90 million discs worldwide.

Another Best Buy exclusive, Elton John’s “The Red Piano” (out Oct. 28), is being made available on CD/DVD, Blu-Ray and LP — one of many signs that vinyl may be breaking out of alt-rock shops and audiophile magazines back into the mass market after being given up for dead.

On Nov. 25, Universal will issue Kanye West’s new album, “808s and Heartbreak” (Roc-a-fella). The advance single, “Love Lockdown,” finds him “singing” — not rapping — catchy pop in a somewhat disembodied fashion using an auto-tune device.

While the holidays are usually a time for new box sets to boost revenue flow, the pickings seem slim this season. Sony BMG has the eighth volume of the Bob Dylan bootleg series, “Tell Tale Signs,” out in two editions — a two-CD set that retails for $22.98 and a three-CD deluxe box for an outlandish $169.98 (what could they be thinking?).

Going to the well again for Led Zeppelin’s 40th anniversary — and a possible reunion tour without Robert Plant — Atlantic/ Rhino reissued all 10 Zep albums in mini-LP replicas within a boxed set Nov. 4.

In jazz, where the majors have increasingly left the field to independents, a key item is Sonny Rollins’ “Road Songs, Vol. 1,” a long-awaited compilation of live recordings due Oct. 28 under Universal’s jazz outlet EmArcy and Rollins’ own Doxy label.

And category-sweeping cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s eclectic holiday offering, “Songs of Joy and Peace” (Sony), released Oct. 14 and featuring Dave Brubeck, Diana Krall, James Taylor, Renee Fleming and many others, debuted at No. 41 on the Billboard 200 — astonishing for a classical artist.

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