With the phrase "return to rock" on people's lips all summer, this November could prove to be the month in which chart tides do finally shift. Oddly enough, it's country music that looks poised to make a run, less than a decade after a generation of black-hatted Nashvillians followed Garth Brooks' lead and seized the charts. The signs? Pop fatigue, slumping sales and the inevitability of fan maturity seem to hint that the perpetually oscillating ups and downs that have defined teen pop (from Rick Nelson to NKOTB to the BSBs) might be headed downhill. Of course, this slip can only be perceived comparatively. Britney Spears' Britney still sold nearly 750,000 copies in its debut week, according to SoundScan. Edging past the 732,720 copies that the Dave Matthews Band's Everyday moved, Britney's numbers were good enough for the second highest first-week tally of the year, trailing only 'N Sync's Celebrity, which mustered a whopping 1.9 million. But for Brit, the first-week drop was more significant from her previous outing (last year's Oops! . . . I Did It Again) than 'N Sync's from their previous album, as Britney was down nearly fifty percent from Oops!.
Granted, numbers are down across the board. Whereas Celebrity is this year's sole member of the Seven Figure Club, last year there were five such debuts: Oops!, 'N Sync's No Strings Attached, Limp Bizkit's Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP and the Backstreet Boys' Black and Blue. But in January, three full years will have passed since Brit made her debut with . . . Baby One More Time. For teens, those might as well be dog years. Fifteen-year-old fans at the time of that release are college age, and Staind are a more conducive spin for bitching about the state of late-teendom. The ride is hardly over, but time may be coming for teen idols to make their New Kids-like choice -- be it a Donny (vocational shift), Joey (self-deprecating shift to elder statesman), or Danny (shift to utter anonymity).
The ways of teen pop have a long history, with little sense of suspense. In addition to age and economic tides, there is our national consciousness. And right now red, white and blue is in. And if such a charge is in the works, it's Brooks that will lead it. His Scarecrow, rumored to be the publicity hound's final recording, was to be an event prior to 9/11. But country music seems to be where we are as music listeners, and last week's Country Music Association Awards show might be just the spark to light up what has been a chilly past few years in Music City. Country music peppered the charts this week as it hasn't in some time. The soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? (which won the CMA for Album of the Year) enjoyed a 100 percent sales spike and lept back into the Top Twenty. The album of old time acoustic music continues to stick out like a sore thumb on the charts, and will likely end up one of the ten best sellers of 2001. Toby Keith's (Best Male Vocalist) Pull My Chain picked up another 16,000 sales from the previous week, while Sara Evans' Born to Fly, Nickel Creek's Nickel Creek and the live O Brother companion album, Down From the Mountain all doubled their sales from last week. The latest releases by Tim McGraw, Lonestar, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, George Jones and Lee Ann Womack also showed hearty sales growth. And with Garth's numbers a week away, George Strait proved the genre's strongest newcomer, as his Road Less Traveled sold 120,000 copies to bow in at Number Nine.
All that said, numbers are starting their holiday climbs as fourteen albums chalked up more than 100,000 in sales; up from eight this time last month. Though David Gilmour recently told Rolling Stone that there are no plans for new material from Pink Floyd, he might want to reconsider, as fans are hungry. The double-CD Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd collection sold 214,650 copies for a Number Two debut. The charts were actually speckled with other promising debuts: North Carolina rapper Petey Pablo's Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry (Number Thirteen), Faith Evans' Faithfully (Number Fourteen), Angie Stone's Mahogany Soul (Number Twenty-two); Third Day's Come Together (Number Thirty-one) and Tony Bennett's Playin' With My Friends (Number Fifty).
Next week should still be a showdown. With a few exceptions (most notably Tim McGraw's Set This Circus Down), country music has done modestly well on the fringes this year, with debuts in the Top Fifty, but rarely scratching the Top Ten. If singles continue to be an indicator, things don't look quite as promising, as the top of the singles chart is clogged with R&B and pop, with country tunes by Brooks and Dunn, McGraw and Keith settling in the Thirties and Forties. But Brooks' coattails look promising, and with only seven sales week's left in the year, he may be the industry's last hope for a grand slam on par with last year's lofty sales.
This week's Top Ten: Britney Spears' Britney (745,744 copies sold); Pink Floyd's Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (214,650); Michael Jackson's Invincible (202,341); Enrique Iglesias' Escape (182,950); Enya's Day Without Rain (177,281); DMX's The Great Depression (148,595); Backstreet Boys' Hits: Chapter One (133,153); Nickelback's Silver Side Up (128,620); George Strait's Road Less Traveled (120,671); and Ja Rule's Pain Is Love (117,716).