There are few things quite as useless as trying to predict the path of popular and underground music. Just look at this year: Who'd have guessed in 2003 that a bipolar strain of hip-hop called crunk would own the radio waves in 2004? Or that the smooth soul sounds of Kanye West and man-boy Usher would overtake the experimental dissections of the Neptunes and Missy Elliott, or that garage bands would be on the wane only two years after starring as the saviors of guitar rock. Fortunately, this is the type of futile venture I'm paid for. So let me be your guide to 2005, a year I know less about than any other since 1978.
Let's start with something familiar. The powers that be at Guns 'N Roses headquarters claim, once again, that the band's sixth full-length album, Chinese Democracy, will be released in the coming year. The band has been promising the album for going on three years, leaving GNR fans little to do but worship the golden calf that is the Darkness--which in 2005 will release its follow-up to last year's Permission to Land--until Axl descends that mountain with a walker and hands the by-then-useless CD to the people of the future. Of course, we have all developed Chinese Democracy-shaped calluses and couldn't care less about this album.
Opposite, say, of the giddy excitement that fills my heart at the mention of Lauryn Hill's upcoming release, the first since 2002's evocative MTV Unplugged 2.0, and more than six years after her first--and only--studio album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Hill's disc should fit in nicely with the current crop of R&B crooners like Alicia Keys--also dropping an album next year--and Mr. West, who will be releasing his sophomore effort, Late Registration, as well as producing records by everyone, including Colin Powell and your mom.
Al Green will return with a follow-up to his excellent 2003 release, I Can't Stop. Outkast will be releasing two albums, The Hard 10 and a soundtrack to My Life in Idlewild, a movie in which André 3000 and Big Boi both star. Of course, these could all flop if the charts go back a few more years again and replace neo-soul with neo-minstrelsy. Speaking of minstrelsy, Limp Bizkit will be releasing a new album, trumpeting the return of prodigal guitarist Wes Borland. And it's gonna suck.
Picking up on this year's Jack White-Loretta Lynn pairing, other odd collaborations will be out in full force in 2005. The most tantalizing collection of contributors will be found on Frank Black's Honeycomb, which will feature such karaoke-able artists as Al Green, the Band, Cheap Trick and, well, Lucinda Williams, who is not really karaoke material, but has that awesome smoker's rasp. Damon Albarn's Gorillaz project will return with DJ Danger Mouse (of The Grey Album fame) and De La Soul in tow. D.M.C. (of Run D.M.C.) will release Checks, Thugs and Rock 'n' Roll with one of the more laughable lineups, which includes Kid Rock, Korn's Fieldy, Limp Bizkit's DJ Lethal and Canadian songbird Sarah McLachlan. Seriously.
And now a few predictions for the indie-rock crowd: Low, with its exceptional sonic maelstrom, The Great Destroyer, and Portland's very own Sleater-Kinney, with Entertain, will duke it out to be the heaviest--and best-selling--artists on Sub Pop in 2005. Bright Eyes' two late-January releases will simultaneously take over the pop charts and turn indie-rock snobs (myself included) into believers. The Decemberists will release Picaresque and Colin Meloy will be named king of the world. But don't take my word for it.