U2 faced high expectations in following up 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, the album that reinstated the Irish quartet as the biggest band in the world. So far, the group has more than met the challenge.
Sales of U2's latest, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which will take the #1 spot on next week's Billboard albums chart, nearly doubled those of its predecessor, according to SoundScan. The more than 839,000 copies it sold gave the band's 11th album the third-largest opening week of the year, behind Usher's Confessions and Norah Jones' Feels Like Home, which both moved more than a million.
Eminem's Encore, in its second week on sale, however, bettered U2's draw by selling just over 31,000 more copies. Now in its third week, Em's fourth LP will fall to #2, with more than 471,000 copies sold, pushing its total sales above the 2 million mark.
Might Gwen Stefani be better off alone? The No Doubt frontwoman had a better first-week total with her maiden solo album than the band did with 2001's Rock Steady. Stefani moved more than 309,000 copies of Love, Angel, Music, Baby, enough to bow into next week's chart at #7, while the band's last effort scored a #9 placement with 55,000 fewer copies sold.
The latest "American Idol" winner follows the precedent set by previous champs Ruben Studdard and Kelly Clarkson by debuting in the top 10. Unlike the others, though, Fantasia couldn't take the top slot with her first album. Free Yourself will settle into the #8 slot after selling more than 239,000 copies.
Rounding out next week's top 10 are Shania Twain's Greatest Hits, taking two strides forward to #3 (with more than 383,000 copies in weekly sales); Destiny's Child's Destiny Fulfilled, stepping back a deuce to #4 (336,000); Toby Keith's Greatest Hits Vol. 2, moving from #7 to #5 (331,000); Snoop Dogg's R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece dropping three spots to #9 (203,000); and Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz's Crunk Juice, falling seven notches to #10 (195,000).
As the year winds down, holiday and greatest-hits sets continue to pepper the chart. Creed's Greatest Hits will take the #15 spot, while Jessica Simpson's ReJoyce: The Christmas Album is right behind at #16. Nirvana's box set, With the Lights Out, will come in at #19.
Ruben Studdard's second album, I Need an Angel, completes the top-20 debuts, landing at #20 with more than 96,000 copies sold.
Other notable debuts on next week's chart includes Evanescence's CD/DVD set Anywhere But Home at #39; the Diplomats' Diplomatic Immunity II at #46; actor Robert Downey Jr.'s musical debut, The Futurist, at #121; and the Goo Goo Dolls' Live in Buffalo at #161.
Black Friday Boosts
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is considered to be the busiest shopping day of the year, and it, along with the rest of the long weekend, has done wonders for chart artists who haven't seen their albums improve in months. More than 11 albums in the top 100, including those by Hilary Duff, Ashlee Simpson, Avril Lavigne, Jessica Simpson, Beyoncé and Yellowcard, have all increased their sales by 50 percent or more.
Those whose albums were released more than a year ago felt the biggest post-Thanksgiving thrust. John Mayer's Heavier Things, which dropped last September, will jump up 30 spots to #61, while nearly doubling weekly sales. Meanwhile, Jessica Simpson's In This Skin (#125 to #64) and Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love (#117 to #71) sold more than twice their previous amounts.
On The Move
As a whole, sales of top 200 albums are on the rise thanks to the holidays on the horizon. More than 9.5 million albums were rung up at registers last week, compared to 7.1 million from the week before, leaving retailers with nearly a 35 percent jump in sales.
The problem with retrospectives and greatest-hits sets, especially by older artists, is their inability to garner new fans. After the die-hards scoop them up, sales have only one way to go: down. Pearl Jam's Rearviewmirror will plummet 27 spots to #41; the Beatles' Capitol Albums, Volume 1 will drop from #35 to #104; and similar dips were seen in collections from Bon Jovi, Seal and Neil Young.
The pattern doesn't bode well for the newly released Greatest Hits from Creed and Nirvana's With the Lights Out.
Sets by country artists, however, seem to buck the trend, since albums by Shania Twain, Toby Keith and George Strait are all strong sellers weeks after being released.