Calling All Chart Freaks: Michael, Lenny, Bush Under The Microscope

A weekly tale of the tape for the statistically obsessed.

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In this week's chart and sales analysis, we go into the brother-sister sales rivalry of Michael and Janet Jackson (just in time for Thanksgiving), track Lenny Kravitz's rootsy and rocky statistical rise, and use the Smashing Pumpkins' fall from sales grace to ponder the future of Live and Bush.

Lil' Sis Is Lil' No More

Michael Jackson may feel Invincible right now, but that won't get him the big piece of turkey at this year's Jackson family Thanksgiving. Those honors (and that plate) will go to his younger sister, Janet.

As expected, Jackson will debut at #1 on next week's Billboard 200 albums chart with Invincible, which moved more than 366,000 copies during its initial week in stores (see "Michael Jackson Proves Invincible On Billboard Albums Chart"). But while Michael may have the chart muscle to up-end DMX, Invincible's first-week numbers fall far short of those posted by Janet's All for You, issued earlier this year.

Buoyed by a #1 single ("All for You") — something Michael can only dream about these days — Janet and All for You sold 605,000 copies during its first week in April to debut atop the Billboard 200. All for You's second-week figures of 310,000 copies almost equaled that of Invincible's debut, and Michael will seem hard-pressed to match those numbers or chart position next week.

In light of how Invincible had been touted as Michael's comeback album, the record's debut numbers make his sister's 1993 comeback, Janet, seem all that more impressive. Janet, the (then) long-awaited follow-up to Rhythm Nation 1814, which sold more than 350,000 copies out of the gate to enter the Billboard 200 charts at #1 in May 1993, where it remained for six straight weeks.

To date, Janet has sold some 6.69 million copies, almost a million copies more than the 5.79 million sold of Dangerous, brother Michael's previous album, according to SoundScan. Michael does hold the edge over his sister in their respective greatest-hits compilations, both of which were issued just a few months apart in 1995. Michael's two-disc HIStory: Past, Present & Future, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 in June 1995 with 390,000 copies sold, has registered 2.41 million total copies. Janet's Design of a Decade: 1986-1996 has sold more than 2.01 million copies, and only entered the charts at #4 in October 1995 on the strength of 128,000 copies.

In his defense, Michael achieved his greatest sales success in the '80s. His 1987 album, Bad, has been certified eight-times platinum, and Thriller — perhaps the definitive pop album — has been certified 26-times platinum and continues to jostle with the the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits: 1971-1975 as the biggest-selling album of all time. (The Eagles currently hold a slight lead, as 1971-1975 was certified 27-times platinum by the RIAA last year, a week after Thriller reached the 26 million level.)

If Michael wants to prove how Invincible he is in this millennium, his new album will need to do at least as well as Janet's last two efforts, All for You and 1997's Velvet Rope. Considering that Velvet Rope has sold 3.07 million copies to date and All for You has sold more than 2.42 million copies in just seven months, the Gloved One has his work cut out for him.

The Apprenticeship Of Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz must have some patient fans. Kravitz just missed cracking the top 10 of the Billboard 200 with his new studio album, Lenny, which sold more than 92,000 copies last week to debut at #12 on the charts.

Admittedly, we thought Lenny might do a little better in its first week — especially in light of the monster numbers posted by Kravitz's last two releases, 5 and Greatest Hits (2.92 million and 3.18 million copies sold, respectively). But it seems like fans are waiting for the big radio and video hit to emerge from Lenny before deigning to buy it.

In terms of sales and chart position, Lenny marks Kravitz's best debut since his schizo Circus release, which entered the charts at #10 with 63,000 copies sold back in October 1995.  But Circus' dark nature and lack of hit singles was a point of divergence for Kravitz and his audience, and it remains the black sheep of his back catalog with only 527,000 copies sold.

In comparison, Kravitz's Are You Gonna Go My Way? debuted at #18 in March 1993 on the strength of 45,000 copies sold, eventually climbed as high as the #12 spot on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than 2.16 million copies. (SoundScan figures indicate that Kravitz's first two albums, Let Love Rule and Mama Said, have sold 760,000 and 1.88 million copies respectively.)

Circus' freak-show sales undoubtedly had a negative impact on the debut of Kravitz's 5, which sold only 32,000 copies to enter the charts at #36 in May 1998. But when Kravitz's "Fly Away" took off some six months later, 5's sales began to soar up the charts as well. The album would eventually peak at #28 in July 1999, buoyed by another single, Kravitz's cover of "American Woman." That track was added to pressings of 5 in June 1999 after originally appearing on the "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" album.

The commercial love shown to Lenny Kravitz's Greatest Hits collection also demonstrates how crucial such radio and video hits have been to his career. Kravitz's Greatest Hits debuted at #2 (with 161,000 copies sold) last November, providing the singer with the biggest single sales and chart week of his career.

With 3.18 million copies sold, Kravitz's compilation is one of the most successful greatest-hits albums to be released by a contemporary artist in recent years, dwarfing the likes of the Black Crowes' Greatest Hits 1990-1999 (221,000 copies sold), Beastie Boys' Anthology: The Sounds of Science (990,000 sold) and even U2's The Best of 1980-1990 (2.74 million sold). The Smashing Pumpkins — who will issue their own hits compilation in a few weeks — beware.

The Downward Spiral: Pumpkins, Live & Bush

In light of the less-than-stellar sales posted by the Smashing Pumpkins' final/farewell album, Machina/The Machines of God, we're left to wonder what the future holds for some other '90s alternative rock groups, specifically Bush and Live.

Despite debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200 in March 2000 with sales in excess of 165,000 copies, Machina only spent 13 weeks on the charts and has sold a total of 549,000 copies. Comparatively, the Pumpkins sold 4.51 million copies of their double LP, Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, and another 1.09 million copies of Adore, the beginning of the group's sales comedown.

In recent weeks, Live and Bush have issued new LPs — V and Golden State — and both entered the Billboard 200 at the #22 spot, selling 72,000 and 55,000 copies, respectively. Bush's Golden State has mined only 81,000 in sales in two weeks, less than the first week posted by the Brit group's previous album, The Science of Things, which sold 106,000 copies upon its release and debuted at #11 in October 1999.

Live's V has only counted its way up to 194,000 copies in seven weeks on the charts, a figure the band's previous LP, The Distance to Here, surpassed in its first two weeks of release in October 1999 (with 220,000 copies sold). After debuting at #4 on the strength of 138,000 copies sold, Live's The Distance to Here has gone on to sell 1.01 million copies, while Bush's The Science of Things has moved just 943,000 copies to date.

Both groups released the best-selling albums of their career in 1994, with Bush's Sixteen Stone tallying 5.61 million in sales and Live's Throwing Copper at the 5.54 million mark. We're not trying to suggest anything about the imminent future of either group, but the recent numbers do make us wonder, especially when it seems that folks would rather buy Nickelback, Incubus and Staind these days.

[In SoundScan we trust. All figures, unless otherwise noted, are according to SoundScan's audited sales numbers and reflect sales as of press time.]