Fall Preview: Autumn Ascendant

O.K., so this summer wasn't all that inspiring, culturally speaking. But fall is on the way with an onslaught of what promises to be more uplifting endeavors. Herewith a selective guide to some of the

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BECK Mutations

Why: An avalanche of big albums is coming this season. Courtney Love and her band Hole have a smart, shimmery new CD, Celebrity Skin, out this week. Neosoulman Seal's Human Being is due Nov. 17. Shock rocker Marilyn Manson goes from gloom to glam on Sept. 15; while R. and B. auteur D'Angelo will try to save soul's soul with Voodoo in November. Rappers RZA (of the Wu-Tang Clan) and Ice Cube also have solo releases due in November. And then there's Beck. R. and B., rap, rock, it's all in there. Beck has an old-soul voice, a sweetly naive look in his eye and a reckless simplicity in his heart--as he said on Where It's At, all he needs is "two turntables and a microphone." Yeah, maybe he could be the voice of his generation. His line, "I'm a loser baby so why don't you kill me?" could be nihilistic ad copy for the '90s. But there's a victory in elusiveness. Beck is nobody's symbol, nobody's icon. He sings, "Temperature's dropping at the rotten oasis/ Stealing kisses from the leprous faces" and dares you to understand. Bluesman, hip-hopper, folkie, punk rocker, poet. If Beck is a loser, we don't ever want to win. When: In stores Nov. 3.

JONI MITCHELL RETURNS! AND OTHER GREAT NEWS Ah, the joy of discovery--of finding that new rocker, that voice you've never heard, or of rediscovering an old favorite, back and in fine form...

Welcome... Somewhere between Sade and Portishead, there's Morley, left. Her fine Sun Machine is just out. And watch for Nicole Renee; her self-titled CD, due Sept. 15, has some of the fire and funk of early Prince.

Welcome Back... Two very different reasons to love Canada: Joni Mitchell, left, and Alanis Morissette. Mitchell's cool Taming the Tiger arrives Sept. 29. Morissette's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is due Nov. 3.

TOM WOLFE A Man in Full

Why: It's been 11 years since The Bonfire of the Vanities enthralled a considerable swatch of the reading public. Here was a novel that actually portrayed something broader than the private angst of a sensitive hero or heroine. Wolfe the journalist (The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff) ladled into his first work of fiction huge portions of contemporary realities: Wall Street shenanigans during the booming '80s, the wretched excesses of the newly rich, racial turmoil, corrupt politicians, a criminal-justice system in free fall. Ever since, the question has been, can Wolfe the novelist do it again? The answer is imminent. A Man in Full is set chiefly in Atlanta and features an aging real estate developer more than a billion dollars in debt and a potentially explosive rape accusation against a black Georgia Tech running back. Get ready for a wild read. When: Publication date is Nov. 12. Books may be in stores a few days earlier.

THOROUGHLY EXAMINED LIVES At least as far back as the days of Plutarch, stories about real people, usually notable if not always virtuous, have attracted an avid readership. Nothing has changed. This fall will see big biographies of:

MUHAMMAD ALI In King of the World, David Remnick, new editor of the New Yorker, assesses the life of the Greatest, particularly his astonishing emergence and self-re-creation during the tumultuous '60s.

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