The transition: In seeking 21st-century rock relevancy, the Australian band faces a formidable challenge. It hasn't released a studio disc since 2000's Stiff Upper Lip and, for many, remains frozen in time by vintage hits "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "Highway to Hell." Can AC/DC plug into the digital age with brick-and-mortar distribution? The hard-rock outfit will sell the 15-track Black Ice exclusively at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, but not at iTunes.
The mission: AC/DC aims to reactivate its fan base and lure newcomers with a fresh and authentic blast of high-voltage guitar mayhem that recaptures the band's raw energy without recycling its riffs.
The ammunition: AC/DC's gamble, sweetened by the sticker price of $11.88, might pay off. Response to first single "Rock 'N Roll Train" has been strong. The rest of Black Ice, produced by Brendan O'Brien, brims with the kind of explosive, pounding anthems that recall Back in Black. A world tour kicks off in late October. See the 'making of' video.
Ciara / Fantasy Ride (Dec. 9)
The transition: She isn't there yet, but Ciara seems to be heading toward Beyoncé/Rihanna territory with consistent hit singles, two multiplatinum albums and endorsement deals. A good commercial ride for Fantasy could give her superstar credentials.
The mission: Ciara is co-executive-producing the album with hitmaker Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, and as the primary songwriter, she's keeping a firm hand on her music's direction.
The ammunition: She's building buzz with two singles —"Go Girl," featuring/produced by T-Pain, and High Price, featuring Ludacris. She's also spent studio time with Lil Jon, Rodney Jerkins and Danja.
David Cook / Untitled (Nov. 18)
The transition: The 2008 "American Idol" champ hopes to pull off the delicate trick of translating his TV-fueled popularity into record sales (achieved by several Idols, notably Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry) while maintaining artistic credibility in the finicky rock realm (a feat not even Daughtry quite achieved).
The mission: Release a debut album that consolidates the base provided by Idol and the primarily pop-radio success of coronation single "The Time of My Life" while adding gritty rock-flavored originals and working with credible rock artists and producers.
The ammunition: His alliance with producer Rob Cavallo — who has worked with Green Day as well as Kid Rock, My Chemical Romance and Eric Clapton — makes for a promising start, but the proof will be in the songs, which are still taking shape in collaboration with several veteran songwriters.
T-Pain / Thr33 Ringz(Nov. 11)
The transition: T-Pain can put to rest doubts about his staying power with an artistic statement that matches his popularity as a featured performer. He introduced himself three years ago as a rapper-turned-singer. Now we'll see if he's a singular star.
The mission: His first two albums, "Rappa Ternt Sanga" and "Epiphany," have sold respectably, but not nearly as much as you might expect, considering his steady presence on various singles charts and explosive ringtone sales. Thr33 Ringz offers an opportunity to prove that the Tallahassee singer/producer is a genuine slugger and not just a talented pinch hitter.