Shania Whips Mariah

Twain makes it three weeks on top of the charts

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The invasion is effectively over. A few big-name releases, like Phish's Round Room are still trickling into record stores, but the onslaught of new albums sent out in time for the holiday season has wound down. Last week twelve new records busted into the Top Fifty, the week prior ten did the same, and fourteen newcomers bounced in three weeks ago.

This week there were two, and neither had much of a shot at unseating chart queen Shania Twain, whose Up! sold 317,000 copies, according to SoundScan, to hold on to Number One for the third straight week. Furthermore, with release dockets looking somewhat clear between now and, um, spring, Twain is positioned to be this year's version of Creed's Weathered, which nearly set a mark for consecutive weeks at Number One by dominating the holidays and weakened January and February charts. Shania's third big week puts Up! at 1.8 million units sold to date, and likely just one week from topping 2 million.

Tim McGraw's Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors held on tightly at Number Two with sales of 251,000. The second week tally matches the best first-week number McGraw had ever mustered with his previous releases. The album has sold 852,000 copies in its two weeks of sale and will handily top 1 million before Christmas.

Mariah Carey's Charmbracelet hardly lit up the charts, but the record is off to a much better start than last year's disastrous Glitter soundtrack. Charmbracelet sold 241,000 copies, more than double Glitter's 116,000 figure from more than a year ago. But week one isn't always the best gauge for Carey, who is the quintessential singles-driven artist. Her career has been built on records slowly burning towards 10 million copies sold behind a string of hits. Her strongest debut, Rainbow in 1999, debuted Number Two with sales of 322,000, modest by the yardstick for contemporary blockbusters. Her last Number One debut, 1997's Butterfly, moved only 235,000 copies in its first week.

While Mariah has provided a convenient target for jest and criticism over the past year, perhaps it was Virgin that deserved the slagging for ponying up a monstrous $81.6 million, four-record deal; one that the label scotched after Glitter tanked. Could it be that pirated songs aren't the reason the record industry is bleeding money, but rather $80 million contracts like the ones offered to Carey, R.E.M., Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston? Not only is it bad business, but with the fickleness of the market, it's lousy gambling. In Carey's case, she netted a reported $49 million for a single record that has sold fewer than 3 million copies to date. Carey's new, more modest deal with Island was for a reported $20 million for three albums, in addition to her own imprint with the label. The label's road towards Mariah-profitability is certainly shorter than Virgin's, and with the release issued through Carey's MonarC partnership with Island, she stands to make more green on the backend should the album perform well. And as this week's figures suggest Mariah can still be money in the bank.

The rest of the chart show evidence of the winter lull beginning to set in. Only eight albums in the Top Fifty and fourteen in the Top 100 enjoyed a sales increase from the previous week. And all the way down at Number Thirty-five, Josh Groban's In Concert was the week's second-highest debut with sales of 59,000, followed by the Eminem-less sequel to the 8 Mile soundtrack, which seemed to set off B.S. detectors among listeners. The compilation settled in at Number 152 with sales of 12,000.

And don't expect a lot of movement in the coming weeks. Some of the hits with legs -- Avril Lavigne's Let Go (Number Six with sales of 175,000), Groban's self-titled debut (Number Twelve, 130,000), The Eminem Show (Number Fifteen, 109,000), Norah Jones' Come Away With Me (Number Seventeen, 100,000) -- will continue to walk back towards the Top Ten, as some of the strong-yet-forgettable debuts start to make their hasty exits.

This week's Top Ten: Shania Twain's Up!; Tim McGraw's Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors; Mariah Carey's Charmbracelet; Now That's What I Call Music! 11; 8 Mile soundtrack; Avril Lavigne's Let Go; Jennifer Lopez's This Is Me . . . Then; 2Pac's Better Dayz; the Dixie Chicks' Home; and Faith Hill's Cry.

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