Chart Watch

Week Ending Jan. 16, 2011: Albums: Even Lower

Chart Watch

For the second week in a row, an album has broken the record for the slimmest sales tally by an album at #1 in the Nielsen SoundScan era. Cake's Showroom Of Compassion tops The Billboard 200 with sales of just 44,000 copies. Last week, Taylor Swift's Speak Now earned the unwelcome distinction with sales of 52,000.

Here's a sign of how bad the current album market is. Each of Cake's last two albums sold more copies in their opening week than Showroom just did, even though they debuted considerably lower on the chart. Pressure Chief sold 46K when it debuted at #17 in 2004. Comfort Eagle sold 72K when it debuted at #13 in 2001.

In fact, Showroom sold just 100 or so more copies in its first week than the band's 1998 album Prolonging The Magic did when it debuted at #33. (Pressure Chief and Prolonging The Magic both came out in October, when sales are brisker than they are in January, but still...)

You might well ask: If an album can sell just 44K and finish #1, what does it mean? Keep in mind that albums compete in the same retail climate and economy as every other album on the market at that time. Cake's tally may be modest, but the album still sold more copies than any other album, new or old, last week. So it's still an achievement worth celebrating.

For the band, that is, not for the music industry. Here are two more signs of how slow album sales are this week. Five of the albums in this week's top 10 sold fewer than 30,000 copies. That's happened only once before (last August). And just 4,849,000 albums were sold last week, the second lowest total in Nielsen SoundScan history (which dates to 1991). The low mark (to date) of 4,832,000 was set in September.

Many people who read this week's chart item will have little idea who or what Cake is. The alternative-leaning band from Sacramento first charted in October 1996 with the album Fashion Nugget. "The Distance," a song from that album, cracked the Hot 100 Airplay chart a few weeks later. Its best known song is "Never There," which topped the Alternative chart in 1998.

Last year, two blockbusters (Lady Antebellum's Need You Now and Sade's Soldier Of Love) were released in the first six weeks of the year. Both albums started with sales north of 475K. How long are we going to have to wait for a comparable first-week tally this year? It looks like sometime in March, when Lil Wayne releases Tha Carter IV. Tha Carter III sold 1,006,000 copies in its first week in June 2008 and went on to become that year's top-selling album.

Also in March, we'll also see a Kanye West/Jay-Z collabo, Watch The Throne; Avril Lavigne's Goodbye Lullaby; a new album by Lady Antebellum a new one by Britney Spears, who has debuted at #1 with five of her six studio albums.

"Hold It Against Me," the first single from Spears' album, is off to a terrific start. It sold 411,000 copies in its first week, which establishes a new record for a song by a female solo artist.  It enters Hot Digital Songs at #1 and will enter the Hot 100 at #1 later today. You can get all the details later today when we post Chart Watch: Songs.

Simple Math: This week's #1 song sold nearly 10 times as many copies as this week's #1 album. Of course, albums cost about 10 times as much as individual songs, so you could say it evens out.

Let's turn back to the top 10 on The Billboard 200 and look for signs of life.

Cage The Elephant's Thank You Happy Birthday debuts at #2, a vast improvement over the band's 2009 eponymous debut, which originally peaked at #67. That album has sold a healthy 405,000 copies, but it did it the hard way: It has never sold more than 12K copies in any one week. (This week, the album sold 7K copies, which enables it to reach a new peak of #59 on The Billboard 200. It also takes the top spot on the Top Catalog Albums chart.)

Country Strong jumps from #10 to #6, becoming the week's #1 soundtrack. It's the first country-oriented soundtrack to make the top 10 since Hannah Montana: The Movie hit #1 in April 2009.

The digital-only sequel is also a hit. Country Strong (More Music From The Motion Picture) vaults from #48 to #23 in its second week on The Billboard 200. We could be headed for an extremely rare occurrence where two soundtracks from the same film are listed in the top 10 simultaneously. This previously happened in April and May 1988 with Dirty Dancing and More Dirty Dancing.

Shameless Plug: Do you love country music? Do you love movies? Then you'll want to check back on Friday, when I'll have a Chart Watch Extra in which I list the 16 country soundtracks that have reached the top 30 on The Billboard 200. Bio-pics of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash are represented, as are movies starring Willie Nelson and George Strait, among others.

Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.

 

1. Cake, Showroom Of Compassion, 44,000. This new entry is the band's first top 10 album. The album sold 19,000 digital copies, which also puts it at #1 on the Digital Albums chart. "Sick Of You" enters Hot Digital Songs at #158.

2. Cage The Elephant, Thank You Happy Birthday, 39,000. This new entry is the band's first top 10 (or even top 50) album. "Shake Me Down" enters Hot Digital Songs at #74.

3. Taylor Swift, Speak Now, 35,000. The album drops from #1 to #3. This is its 12th week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs. "Back To December" drops from #28 to #30. "Mine" drops from #56 to #78.

4. Bruno Mars, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, 32,000. The album dips from #3 to #4. This is its fourth week in the top 10. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Grenade," which slips to #2 after four weeks on top.

5. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday, 32,000. The album drops from #2 to #5. This is its eighth week in the top 10. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Moment 4 Life," which jumps from #54 to #49.

6. Various Artists, Country Strong soundtrack, 29,000. The soundtrack jumps from #10 to #6. This is its second week in the top 10. Five songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by Gwyneth Paltrow's "Country Strong," which jumps from #72 to #70.

7. Steel Magnolia, Steel Magnolia, 28,000. This new entry is the country duo's debut album. "Keep On Lovin' You" enters Hot Digital Songs at #196.

8. Rihanna, Loud, 28,000. The album drops from #6 to #8. This is its eighth week in the top 10. The album holds at #1 in the U.K. for the third straight week. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "What's My Name?" (featuring Drake), which drops from #9 to #12.

9. Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More, 26,000. The album dips from #8 to #9. This is its third week in the top 10. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs. "Little Lion Man" drops from #70 to #72. "Cave" drops from #136 to #139.

10. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 25,000. The former #1 album drops from #7 to #10. This is its fifth week in the top 10. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "All The Lights," which jumps from #113 to #88.

Three albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack drops from #4 to #18, Eminem's Recovery drops from #5 to #14 and Jason Aldean's My Kinda Party drops from #9 to #11.

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LeCrae's Rehab: The Overdose debuts at #15. This is the sequel to LeCrae's Rehab, which debuted and peaked at #17 in October. LeCrae is a leading Christian rapper.

The Social Network soundtrack re-enters the chart at #72. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won a Golden Globe this past Sunday and is a likely Oscar contender. The album sold 6,000 copies this week, bringing its total to date to 69K.

The Green Hornet was #1 at the box-office over the weekend, displacing True Grit. And so a movie based on a radio serial that bowed in 1936 follows a movie based on a book that was published in 1968. Not too much new coming out of Hollywood. There is no soundtrack to The Green Hornet.

Coming Attractions: The Decemberists' The King Is Dead is expected to debut at #1 next week, with sales in the 65K range. (The year's best!) Kidz Bop 19 will probably be the second highest debut, with sales of about 55K. Also due (in roughly this order): The Script's Science & Faith, Social Distortion's Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes, Gregg Allman's Low Country Blues and James Blunt's Some Kind Of Trouble

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