The festive season is no time for promising new bands, critically acclaimed singer-songwriters or artists of a more esoteric bent to be releasing records. Christmas means a flood of blockbuster idols and stocking-filler greatest hits collections, and everything else will ?get lost in their deluge.

Among those lining up greatest hits ?this year are Oasis, George Michael, Sugababes, Jamiroquai and Moby. In a field that crowded, someone is sure to lose out. Not a good time to be a bald, vegan, techno-boffin, then. The rest are all odds-on bets to be placing substantial lump sums in their pension funds come the new year.

Likewise, a healthy number of heavyweights are wheeling out bright, shiny new works ?in the run-up to Christmas. Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake will do battle for the pop diva crown - the thinking person's money is already on the boy/man to emerge victorious ?with his Future Sex/Love Sounds album?, although all three are likely to fare better than well. ?And a new album from Robbie Williams is always the signal for cash registers to ring, even if the forthcoming Rudebox has the whiff of hubristic stopgap about it.

It's been a good year for British ?artists,? and the last days of 2006 are only going to re?inforce that fact, with Keane's Under The Iron Sea, Snow Patrol's Eyes Open, James Morrison's Undiscovered and Razorlight's ?eponymous opus all ?examples of albums with legs. Keeping up America's end will be The Killers'' ?Sam's Town and Scissors Sisters'' Ta-Dah, both follow ups to hugely successful debuts and both set fair to scale the same lofty heights?.

It has been a poor year for hip-hop, especially in the US, but much is expected of OutKast's sprawling Idlewild album. ?Equally high hopes are pinned on Jay-Z, whose retirement lasted little more than a year?.

With all that going on, the likes of The Magic Numbers and Bloc Party? will do well to keep their heads above water. Damien Rice, also taking his second bow, may be striking enough to be the exception to any rule.

Elsewhere, The Who release their first album in decades, Elton John unveils a 30-years-after-the-event sequel to Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, and All Saints kiss, make up and return with a new album.

As for exciting new music? Best wait till 2007 for that.