Got Charts? Usher’s Platinum Mine; A Tolkien Spell; An Ill-Fated Concept

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In this week’s chart and sales analysis, we get a little Economics 101 lesson from Usher regarding business, timing and his 8701 album and “Texas Rangers” film and head into Middle Earth with Enya and Led Zeppelin. We also explore how the artistic strength of one musical concept can be its own commercial weakness.

Usher Avoids ‘Rangers’ Pick-Off Play

As Usher well knows, with music and business, it’s all about timing.

With that in mind, we thought we’d go ahead and nominate Usher Raymond for this year’s highly unofficial (and completely fictitious) Donald Trump Shrewd Business Move Award for his handling of the release of his new LP, 8701, relative to the release of the film “Texas Rangers.”

Despite concerns about 8701‘s lengthy gestation, the Atlanta singer quelled all naysayers when the record debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in August (see “Isley Brothers, Usher, Jadakiss Storm Albums Chart” ), thanks to a hefty 210,000 copies sold. In 18 weeks, 8701 has tallied 1.94 million in sales and is at a pace to leave the numbers posted by Usher’s second effort, My Way, in the dust.

Issued in September 1997, My Way entered the chart at the #15 spot after selling some 66,000 copies. In comparison to 8701, Usher sold 1.32 million copies of My Way during that album’s first 18 weeks in stores and currently stands at the 3.97 million mark in sales.

Usher’s other two albums, his 1994 self-titled debut and his 1999 concert record, Usher Live, are nowhere even close to approaching the sales level of either My Way or 8701. The singer’s debut barely scratched the Billboard 200 upon its release, charting at #187 after selling just 6,300 copies. Usher went on to log just 12 weeks total on the albums chart, peaking at #167 in October 1994 on its way to selling more than 269,000 copies to date.

Usher Live, released as a stopgap measure to tide fans over while Raymond explored a film career with roles in “The Faculty” and “Light It Up,” didn’t fare much better than Usher on the albums chart. After debuting at #76 in March 1999 with 21,000 sold, Usher Live dropped quickly from the Billboard 200 after nine weeks and has tallied just over 200,000 copies sold.

Even though Usher has been able to strike a nice balance between his movie and music careers, the worlds very easily could have collided with 8701 and “Texas Rangers.”

The dual threat actor/singer spent much of 1999 and 2000 filming “Texas Rangers,” a brat pack Western co-starring James Van Der Beek and Rachael Leigh Cook, and recording songs for what would eventually become 8701 — a project originally titled All About U. Usher initially intended to tie the release of the album and film together, with early plans calling for All About U to be released a few weeks after “Texas Rangers” was scheduled to hit screens in August 2000.

Both the film and album stalled in production, with Usher announcing (and then repealing) no less than three separate release dates for All About U, along the way re-shaping the material into what would become 8701. “Texas Rangers” ended up being shelved for over a year by Dimension Films, and didn’t saddle up in North America until November 30.

Turns out Usher made a supremely sage decision not to coordinate the release of 8701 and “Texas Rangers,” as the movie has turned out to be as much of a box office bomb as the record is a chart and sales smash.

Budgeted at $38 million and filmed on location in Canada and Mexico, “Texas Rangers” has grossed just $548,000 during its ten days in release, including an opening weekend gate of just $319,000, according to Variety. Those numbers are even low enough to make Mariah Carey smile, as “Glitter,” which cost an estimated $22 million to make, managed to gross $2.4 million in its opening weekend — a figure that puts the western’s gross to shame, relatively speaking.

While there’s no telling what effect the Boot Hill-like box office numbers posted by “Texas Rangers” would have had on 8701‘s sales, we’re reasonably certain it wouldn’t have spurred them upward.

Considering that it could have gone down like a commercial “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” Usher is likely more than happy to let “Texas Rangers” slink off into the sunset while he basks in 8701‘s substantial sales glow.

Enya & Zeppelin: Separated At Middle Earth

For years, the contemporary musician most often associated with the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien has been none other than Robert Plant, who openly cited the author’s work as a lyrical influence on Led Zeppelin classics such as “Ramble On” and The Battle of Evermore.” Now Plant and Led Zep may have to share that distinction — and that Tolkien connection — with none other than Enya.

The singer has contributed a pair of new songs to the soundtrack for “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first installment of director Peter Jackson’s epic take on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. For the film, Enya has penned new tunes titled “The Council of Elrond” and “May It Be,” the latter of which will likely receive a “My Heart Must Go On”-like push if the film is anywhere near as successful as “Titanic” was.

Making musical friends with the inhabitants of Middle Earth is the latest achievement in an altogether magical year for Enya, whose newest solo record, A Day Without Rain, will be #7 on next week’s Billboard 200. Released in November 2000, A Day Without Rain leaped into the top 10 of the albums chart as the album’s lead single, “Only Time,” soared into heavy rotation at radio stations across the country in the wake of the September 11 attacks on America.

So far, A Day Without Rain has sold more than 4.42 million copies, continuing a run of albums that have put up some hefty sales figures. Impressive, considering that many thought Enya would sail away into obscurity more than 10 years ago, after her sleeper 1988 hit, “Orinoco Flow,” transformed the Celtic/New Age singer into a crossover pop star.

Over the years, Enya has proven to be a great deal more than a one-hit wonder. All five of the singer’s solo albums, along with a greatest-hits collection, have sold more than a million copies, including 1987′s The Celts — which was initially issued as Enya (1.96 million copies sold), 1989′s Watermark (3.5 million), 1991′s Shepherd Moons (4.34 million), The Memory of Trees (2.16 million) and Enya’s 1997 best-of, Paint the Sky with Stars (2.16 million). Not quite Led Zeppelin II or Led Zeppelin IV — certified by the RIAA for 12 million and 22 million in sales, respectively — but none too shabby nevertheless.

Will You Stick Around For The Sequel?

Even though we admire De La Soul and their ambitious plans for a three-record Art Official Intelligence series, we’re a little concerned about who all will turn out for the trilogy’s end.

The Long Island trio just issued AOI: Bionix, the second LP in the triptych and the follow-up to last year’s Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, an album that launched the series and marked De La Soul’s first studio effort since 1996′s Stakes Is High. Unfortunately, significantly fewer fans have turned out to witness Art Official‘s Act II.

AOI: Bionix has greased only 20,000 in sales so far and will stagger into the new Billboard 200 albums chart at #136 — a far cry from the top 10 debut posted by Mosaic Thump, which sold more than 81,000 copies upon its release in August 2000 to lay a rap thud on the #9 spot.

De La Soul’s previous two LPs, Stakes Is High and Buhloone Mind State, had both failed to crack the Billboard top 10 upon their release, entering the charts at #13 (with 58,000 copies sold) in July 1996 and at #40 (with 23,000 copies sold) in September 1993, respectively.

Bionix‘s poor showing undercuts any momentum De La Soul had built with Mosaic Thump, which has sold 417,000 copies so far and stands to be the group’s second-biggest seller, trailing only its 1989 platinum-certified debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. If the lack of fan support for Bionix continues, the potential drop-off for album #3 could be even more severe — with possible first-week sales of less than 10,000 copies.

It’s not the first time in recent memory an audience’s wavering attention span has gradually diminished returns on a series of interconnected albums. Just ask Marilyn Manson or Everclear.

After selling 1.69 million copies of his 1996 macabre epic, Antichrist Superstar, Manson mustered 1.22 million in sales for the glam-tinged sequel, 1998′s Mechanical Animals. The fall from sales grace was greater for the final album in the ungodly trinity, Holy Wood, which has sold 427,000 copies since its release last November.

Everclear also witnessed a sizable erosion in fan support for their Songs from an American Movie albums. Released in July 2000 and armed with a hit single, “Wonderful,” Everclear’s Songs From an American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile has tallied a respectable 1.01 million copies sold to date, joining the platinum ranks of the band’s 1995 LP, Sparkle and Fade (1.19 million copies), and its 1997 album, So Much for the Afterglow (2.19 million copies).

Even though the Portland, Oregon, group served up Songs From an American Movie, Vol. 2: Good Time for a Bad Attitude just four months after Vol. 1 was released, far fewer fans were interested in the second reel of American Movie tunes, as Vol. 2 has sold just 275,000 copies.

Of course, not all LP series have been commercial disappointments, with rapper Jay-Z tidying up quite nicely with his hip-hop trilogy of 1997′s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1.16 million copies sold), 1998′s Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (4.98 million), and 1999′s Vol. 3 … Life & Times of S. Carter (2.84 million). Of course, there’s probably a good reason why Jay-Z opted not to add a “Vol. 4″ in front of his newest album title, The Blueprint.

The possible lesson here? Keep the albums short and sharp, ’cause fans and listeners can get too much of a good thing.

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