Now! 9 Takes Top Spot

Album of pop unseats album of bluegrass

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Well, it was hardly a fair fight, but Now That's What I Call Music! 9, featuring songs by Pink, Britney Spears, 'N Sync and the usual chart-topping suspects dethroned the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, selling 419,000 copies, according to SoundScan, to debut at Number One. Still, O Brother -- featuring some artists in their eighties, as opposed to those born in the Eighties -- put up strong numbers again in its sixty-fourth week of release, selling 132,000 copies, coming in at Number Three.

This week's Number Two slot, however, is a snapshot of just how screwed record sales are this year. The Jay-Z/R. Kelly collaboration The Best of Both Worlds looked to be as sure a bet for beefy sales as any release this year. But the album sputtered out of the gate with sales of 223,000, proving that, along with Brandy's Full Moon (which has fallen out of the Top Ten after just three weeks, with sales of 68,000 last week), R&B is just as vulnerable during the current sales slump as other genres.

That said, R&B newcomer Glenn Lewis made an impressive enough debut with his World Outside My Window. Its sales of 86,000 would barely get the album a Top Ten invite this time last year, but that tally was good enough for a Number Four debut this week, just edging Jimmy Buffett's Far Side of the World, which came in at Number Five with sales of 76,000.

There were plenty of other notable debuts. The hip-hop/electronica fusion found on the Blade II soundtrack pushed that album up to a Number Twenty-six entry with sales of 44,000; Ol' Dirty Bastard didn't let a little thing like prison interfere with his Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones jumping in at Number Thirty-three (sales of 35,000); and Darren Hayes' reward for splitting from Savage Garden was a Number Thirty-five debut for Spin, with sales of 34,000.

But despite the infusion of new blood, the overall mood is dread. Even the sure-fire Now series is beginning to show signs of weakness. After Now! 7 logged a tally of 621,000 copies last August and bumped 'N Sync's Celebrity from Number One, the series has hit the skids (comparatively, of course). Now! 8 got its ass handed to it by Creed's Weathered last November, registering only 549,000 sales during the holiday season. And now Now! 9, while still a Number One, is more than 200,000 copies off the mark from the series' pinnacle. We've nearly run through a quarter of 2002 and even compared to 2001 (which itself was a sickly year when placed alongside 2000), the ten best-selling albums of the year so far have registered sales of 10.3 million. That's a full 3 million fewer than the Top Ten tally this time last year.

The tendency has been to look onto the horizon for that sales juggernaut that will be a sales catalyst for the year, jump-starting spring and moving comfortably into summer. But those juggernauts have been posting numbers that compared to our recent yardsticks are coming up short: Alanis Morissette's Under Rug Swept is sitting fairly idle at 500,000 copies sold after a month of release; a number dwarfed by the Dave Matthews Band's first week sales of 730K this time last year for Everyday (which until this week still resided inside the Top 100). Which brings up another distressing point: the number of chart codgers. The Top Fifty is peppered with albums that have been sitting on shelves for months, or in the cases of O Brother, Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory, Alicia Keys' Songs in A Minor, U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind and Enya's A Day Without Rain, more than a year. The class of 2002 is actually doing so poorly that one has to scroll down to the year's fourteenth best-selling record, Jennifer Lopez's J to tha Lo! to find a chart titan that wasn't released last year.

Next week offers little more than Andrew W.K. to make some new ripples. Yet, something must be said for his debut album, I Get Wet. The white jean-wearing weirdo's collection of cheesy keyboard-drenched party anthems might just be the mindless tonic for which the record-buying public is thirsting. That's not to say it will debut Number One, as it most certainly won't. But without the earnestness of a Staind or Creed, without the tired rap/rock template of a Linkin Park, without taking itself seriously and certainly without any social or political message, the album just might make a sufficient spring splash to find its legs to carry it into the summer. Chances are the album's eerily fascinating pop metal will be infused into film trailers, commercials, MTV's beach-centric summer programming and the like. And perhaps we could use a little bit of that.

This week's Top Ten: Now That's What I Call Music! 9; Jay-Z and R. Kelly's The Best of Both Worlds; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Glenn Lewis' World Outside My Window; Jimmy Buffett's The Far Side of the World; Alan Jackson's Drive; Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory; Alanis Morissette's Under Rug Swept; Ludacris' Word of Mouf; and Pink's Missundaztood.