Ashanti Edges Beyonce

R&B singer rules weak chart

Ashanti's Chapter II tallied a second week at Number One, selling 135,000 copies, according to SoundScan. The R&B singer just edged Beyonce Knowles' Dangerously in Love, which sold 132,000 copies.

Beyond that, no other release registered six-figure sales. Country singer Trace Adkins sold 56,000 copies of Volume 1: Greatest Hits at Number Nine and Thalia jumped in at Number Eleven with her self-titled, English-language debut, which sold 50,000 copies. The only other debut in the Top 100 was Peter Malick's New York City, which arrived at Number Fifty-four with sales of 20,000, in no small part due to the presence of Norah Jones' name on the cover of his album. Those three newcomers and The Very Best of George Benson (Number 138) were the only new releases to chart in the Top 200.

With the rookies struggling, how did the vets perform? Poorly. Total sales in the Top 200 on this week's chart were down to 3.4 million from 3.9 million a week ago. And that figure is a staggering slip from 4.5 million this time last year, when, if memory serves, folks were marveling at how lousy sales were. Bad seems to be redefining itself each year as the major labels are finding fewer blockbusters. Nearly a third of the albums in this week's Top 100 weren't even released in 2003. That's good news for albums with legs like Norah Jones' Come Away With Me, which sits at Number Eight with sales of 61,000 a year and a half after its release. And it's grim for acts like Marilyn Manson, whose The Golden Age of Grotesque has fallen to Number 101 after just two months of release, and in spite of hearty summer promotion on Ozzfest.

Next week doesn't look to thaw the freeze. Macy Gray's latest is the highest wattage album to arrive in stores this week. But sales of her last album, 2001's The Id, failed to match those of her 1999 debut, The Trouble With Being Myself, and short of a monster single dropping from the sky, Trouble looks poised for sales closer to the latter. Another week of Ashanti and Beyonce duking it out looks to be on order, though as each of those albums loses new release momentum, look for Evanescence's Fallen (which at Number Three with sales of 72,000 is likely runner up for the year's biggest debut) to take a possible shot at the top.

This week's Top Ten: Ashanti's Chapter II; Beyonce Knowles' Dangerously in Love; Evanescence's Fallen; Luther Vandross' Dance With My Father; 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'; Michelle Branch's Hotel Paper; Metallica's St. Anger; Norah Jones' Come Away With Me; Trace Adkins' Volume 1: Greatest Hits; and Cher's The Very Best of Cher.