Naming new CDs for the upcoming year isn’t as easy as it seems. Example: Have you picked up your copy of Chinese Democracy yet? Thought so. Rumors abound regarding fresh releases from famously dysfunctional acts such as Wilco, the Pixies and the Fugees, but I must err on the side of caution and discuss only a few albums that are fairly set in stone for 2006, even if the exact dates of arrival are not.

Outkast

Idlewild

(February)

After teasing a breakup by releasing their last album as two separate solo projects, hip-hop’s reigning weirdos have reformed their united front. And now they’re doing musicals: the long-delayed Idlewild doubles as the soundtrack to the duo’s film debut, a drama set in the Depression-era South. Apparently, the time period influenced the music, meaning they’re once again pushing rap’s boundaries — back to the 1930s.

Reason to be excited: A new Outkast record is always a major event. It should be a national holiday.

Reason not to get your hopes up: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below revealed a deep division in the group’s creative direction: Big Boi is content with continuing to deliver trunk-rattling alien pimp-rap, while Andre 3000 is actively campaigning to be this generation’s Prince. Now that they’re back as a single unit, the chemistry they had in the past could be damaged. Plus, the last time Outkast contributed songs to a movie, it was for Scooby Doo, which would seem to curse a band’s big-screen aspirations forever after.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Stadium

Arcadium

(April)

It’s been a long road littered with sweat-stained underwear, hypodermic needles and Dave Navarro, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers have finally blossomed into a legitimately great rock band. For its ninth album, the often bare-chested quartet is publicly announcing its maturity with one of the classic signposts of artistic growth: the double album.

Reason to get excited: 2003’s strikingly mature By The Way confirmed that the band has, at last, outgrown its oversexed, socks-on-cocks, funk-rock party days.

Reason not to get your hopes up: Guitarist John Frusciante has been spending a lot of time with neo-prog wanks the Mars Volta, meaning the band may have replaced the slap-bass with meandering explorations of open space.

The Game

The Doctor’s Advocate

(April)

Still hot on the heels of 2005’s biggest debut, The Game isn’t wasting any time dropping his sophomore effort. For The Doctor’s Advocate, the Compton rapper is following the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy that has maintained the careers of many a multiplatinum emcee, retaining the same team of all-star producers — including his mentor, Dr. Dre — that helped blow The Documentary into the stratosphere.

Reason to get excited: Although he didn’t outsell him, opinion on the street is that The Game won the war of words against his homie-turned-arch nemesis, 50 Cent. That moral victory could give him the confidence and drive to upend the overexposed Lou Ferrigno of hip-hop on the charts as well.

Reason not to get your hopes up: On his first album, The Game — who’d only been rapping for a year before going into the studio — mostly coasted on the top-shelf production. He may have to up his mic game (pun intended) to pull it off the second time around.