LOS ANGELES — Adult singer/songwriter Amos Lee leads the U.S. pop charts this week, and though his 40,000 in sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan, mark a career best for the artist, the number will come with an asterisk — at least for a week or two. Lee’s “Mission Bell” marks the lowest-ever No. 1 debut for an album released in the post-SoundScan era, which began in 1991.
The record-breaking number comes only two weeks after alt-rock vets Cake led the chart with 44,000 in sales. The act’s “Showroom of Compassion” is at No. 51 this week, with close to 9,000 copies sold. In three weeks, “Compassion” has sold 68,000 copies, indicative of an album largely playing to die-hards.
Though Lee’s built himself a steady career, he is a long way from the superstars who once dominated the pole position on the chart, often for multiple weeks. A recent concert date in Los Angeles at the Music Box failed to sell out, although a spokesperson for promoter Goldenvoice notes that it was close. Nevertheless, the Music Box is midsize venue with a capacity of 1,300, and indie act Beach House has managed to sell out its upcoming two-night stand that begins on Feb. 16.
Back on the charts, Sam Beam’s Iron & Wine muscles a No. 2 in the depressed climate, scoring a career high for his “Kiss Each Other Clean.” Yet the 39,000 copies sold by “Kiss” isn’t all that much higher than the 32,000 sold by his “Shepherd’s Dog” back in 2007, according to Billboard. Three years ago, however, sales in the 30,000-range would have likely pegged an artist to land somewhere in the 20s, as “Shepherd’s Dog” bowed at No. 24.
Taken as a whole, the sales news only gets worse. Overall album sales, according to Billboard, are down 18 percent from the comparable week in 2010, and 13 percent for the year. BigChampagne’s recently launched Ultimate Chart doesn’t add much clarity, as its jumble of social-networking sites results in a tally that sometimes feels like little more than a popularity contest.The likes of Bruno Mars, Katy Perry and Britney Spears dot the top five, although there is one surprise at the top of BigChampagne’s chart.
Orch-pop act the Decemberists, who went a more stripped-down folksy route for “The King is Dead,” lead BigChampagne’s tally, which calculates data from iTunes, AOL, Facebook and others in an effort to capture the artist’s generating the most heat online. So far, “The King is Dead” is collecting nice sales numbers for Capitol, as the No. 1 album last week is No. 10 this week, adding another 24,000 copies sold. That gives the band a two-week total of 123,000 copies. Impressive, considering that total sales for “Hazards of Love” topped off at about 160,000.
Yet the SoundScan chart does offer a look at an artist’s longevity, capturing a snapshot of those who sell long after the first-week headlines. The long-term, slow-build success of Mumford & Sons feels like an anomaly in this era, as after 45 weeks the band’s “Sigh No More” has sold a total of 740,000 copies and sits this week at No. 6.
Likewise, the Black Keys’ “Brothers” has been holding steady after 37 weeks. The bluesy act sits at No. 20 after 37 weeks on the charts, having now sold more than 560,000 copies. Further down, country scorcher Miranda Lambert doesn’t get the headlines of the genre’s other blond starlets, but her “Revolution” has quietly sold 1.1 million copies through 70 weeks of release. The album is at No. 60 this week.