· The Neverland Ranch burns like a scene out of Equus, and major record labels are diving for a warm seat in a game of musical chairs. Even Wal-Mart is taking a stab at the MP3 game as iPod devices, cell phones, and PDAs morph into the next killer application. I'm still waiting for a songwriter to say something fresh about the new Gulf War in a song - not in a news bite, but in a song. But if that song were already out there, would I ever hear it on a Clear Channel station? If Courtney Love is the new Liz Taylor, and Bono is the new John Lennon, will someone please take a serious try at becoming the new Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield? Will we find Axl Rose and his finished album hiding in a spider hole? DJ equipment continues to outsell guitars, and Missy Elliott keeps getting slimmer and slimmer under the lights of the cult of celebrity. And folks, it's only going to get weirder. Welcome to 2004, where all the world's a stage, and thanks to the electronic media we get 24-hour front-row seats to the beheadings. Peeping my head over the grassy knoll, I'm looking forward to the promise of what's next. As the record-industry machine wakes up from the holiday office party and begins to crank out the hits, here's a list of upcoming releases that have captured my imagination. Three new projects boast super-group status with the pedigrees of the band members and their guests. Sanctuary Records will release Here Come the Brides, from the new hard-rock quartet Brides of Destruction. Formed by Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns, and session drummer Scot Coogan, the band is fronted by newcomer London LeGrand.

· Another band of reputations coming together is Rocket from the Tombs, a reunion from the group's days as a Cleveland, Ohio, proto-punk pioneer in 1974. Just finishing up a North American tour for in time for the holidays, the band is set to release an all-new studio album, Rocket Redux, on the Smog Veil Records imprint. Made up of founders David Thomas of Pere Ubu and Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys, the band now features Television guitarist Richard Lloyd and Craig Bell of the Saucers.

· Most impressive is the guest list on Melissa Auf Der Maur's forthcoming new solo album on Capitol Records. Assisting the former Smashing Pumpkins/Hole bassist are Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri of Queens of a Stone Age, Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson, Kelli Scott of Failure, Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees, and Chris Goss of Masters of Reality.

· An early artifact of vintage b-boy culture is soon to be re-issued by Troubleman Unlimited Records: This Is Riphop, by the Death Comet Crew. Recorded in 1983 and 1984, and combining sound samples with TV and film snippets into a sound collage, these sessions are essential long-lost cornerstones of NYC hip-hop.

· On January 20, the Columbia Legacy division of Sony is releasing the Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle soundtrack of One from the Heart. Waits himself has overseen the magical re-issue, now expanded to two CDs with bonus tracks. The following week Fantoma Films is releasing a two-DVD set of the 1982 film with six hours of bonus material and six exclusive Waits songs.

· DVD healing can be found soon from Raptivism Records, in its release next month of the Supanova Slom film Holistic Wellness In Hip-Hop. Featuring conversations with Erykah Badu, Common Stic.man of Dead Prez, and Tony Award winner Ben Vereen, the documentary is a guide to healing oneself through diet and the holistic lifestyle.

· And just when you think you've seen it all, get ready for the new genre-smash of alternative rock and fishing. The Flaming Lips are putting on their waders for an entire fishing soundtrack with Okie Noodling. The down-home DVD is due in February, and features the art of noodling, or fishing for behemoth catfish by hand. Highlights include the countrified "Southern Oklahoma Cosmic Trigger Contest," with a demented pre-story by singer Wayne Coyne.

· Can you imagine Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction and Deborah Harry of Blondie on the same record as the soulful Lou Rawls and Cheers barstool resident George Wendt? Believe it or not, those artists and more are coming together on Walt Disney Records' A World of Happiness, reviving the spirit of Marlo Thomas' Free to Be You & Me recordings from 1972. Teaching good manners and a rainbow philosophy is what the new project is all about, with proceeds benefiting the St. Jude Foundation and pediatric AIDS charities. Others involved include Lisa Loeb, Illeana Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, and Gary Oldman.

· The where-have-they-been file will soon have a new sighting of Wall of Voodoo founder Stan Ridgway, as he's involved with an arty new project created as a backdrop for an art-gallery exhibit of doe-eyed nightmare children. Teamed with Pietra Wexstun of Hectates Angels, the pair has recorded Blood, a musical score to artist Mark Ryden's showing of Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow & Fear in New York and Los Angeles. The Sympathy For the Record Industry label is releasing the limited-edition CD, housed in elaborated three-fold packaging.

Television Alert:

The Late Show with David Letterman hosts Clay Aiken on Friday, The Alkaline Trio on Monday, and Pink on Tuesday; Late Night with Conan O'Brien welcomes Bruce Springsteen on Thursday overnight, The Stills on Friday overnight, and Buddy Guy & Double Trouble on Tuesday overnight; and The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn presents Sarah McLachlan on Thursday overnight.

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