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With the early January gig schedules even more bare than usual, there's some comfort to be had from looking ahead to the albums due to be released this year. There's an intriguing mix of established acts and relative newcomers with, hopefully, some unexpected treats out of the blue.

Two years after the stripped-down, forceful Accelerate, REM are back with Collapse Into Now. Again produced by Dubliner Jacknife Lee, it includes guest appearances from Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder and Peaches and promises to be more expansive than its predecessor with Peter Buck, not given to hyperbole, claiming it's as strong as Automatic for the People.

After more than a decade of critically acclaimed albums and little reward, Elbow's 2008 breakthrough with The Seldom Seen Kid was a victory for the underdog, with One Day Like This assuming anthemic status. Now it's time to see how Guy Garvey & co react to the expectations for the follow-up, initially due to be called Uppity Kids, when it arrives in March.

Fans of folk-influenced Americana are in for a busy couple of months, with Iron & Wine's new album ready, The Low Anthem releasing Smart Flesh in February and Fleet Foxes due to deliver their second album in April. On the evidence of Walking Far From Home and Matter of Time, Iron & Wine and The Low Anthem are in fine fettle while Fleet Foxes insiders say their new offering is even more '60s influenced than the debut. Not a bad thing.

Liam Gallagher's Beady Eye release their debut at the end of February. The first song to be heard, Bring the Light, sounded like little more than hackneyed rock'n'roll cliches, albeit fronted by a man with a mighty set of pipes. Not much change there, so.

Those who praised U2's appalling No Line on the Horizon to the heavens must be feeling rather silly now that even the band themselves have admitted that it wasn't really up to much.

That won't stop Bono and his corporation from milking the punters with Songs of Ascent, a collection of tracks which weren't deemed good enough to make the original collection.

At least there'll be some decent Irish music with Thomas Walsh back in the studio with Pugwash. Can't hardly wait, as The Replacements used to say. > George Byrne