There wasn't much question about whether Beyoncé's fourth solo effort, 4, would debut at the top of the Billboard 200 chart this week — it was just a matter of what the final tally would be.
Beyoncé does indeed top the chart with sales of 310,000, according to figures provided by Nielsen SoundScan. But that's about 172,000 less than the first-week tally for her last effort, 2006's double-disc smash, I Am ... Sasha Fierce, and marks the softest opening sales for the singer's solo albums to date (edging out her 2003 solo debut, Dangerously in Love, which moved 317,000).
Bey leads a parade of new faces in the top 10, including the debut from Kanye West protégé Big Sean, Finally Famous: The Album, which lands at #3 (87,000). Also new to the top 10: the latest from Selena Gomez & the Scene, When the Sun Goes Down (#4, 78,000); the second effort from former "American Idol" winner David Cook, This Loud Morning (#7, 46,000); and the debut EP from this year's "Idol" winner, Scotty McCreery, which hits #10 on sales of 40,000.
As for the rest of the top 10, Adele's 21 continues to defy expectations and recent music-industry logic by scooting up one spot to #2 on sales of 92,000 as her year-to-date figures pass the 2.5 million mark. After debuting at #1 last week, Jill Scott falls to #5 with The Light of the Sun, which was down 60 percent on sales of 55,000. Country singer Jason Aldean's My Kinda Party moves up four spots to #6 (48,000), "America's Got Talent" mini-opera diva Jackie Evancho falls four to #8 with Dream With Me (44,000) and the Eminem and Royce da 5'9" collabo, Hell: The Sequel, slips three spots to #9 (42,000).
While sensitive folkie Bon Iver takes a major 63 percent tumble to #11 (39,000) with his self-titled second album after a #2 debut last week, it is the steady decline of Lady Gaga's Born This Way that continues to make headlines. Even as U.K. breakout star Adele has managed to hover around the top five for most of the year and rack up the biggest figures to date for a 2011 release on the back of just one single ("Rolling in the Deep"), despite a string of singles and high-profile videos, Gaga's album has steadily faded after just six weeks.
This week marks its first outside the top 10, as Born This Way falls another four spots to #12, with sales dipping another 22 percent to 38,000 as total sales passed the 1.5 million mark.
Elsewhere on the charts, the all-star Buddy Holly tribute album, Rave on Buddy Holly, comes in at #15 (28,000), just ahead of the comeback attempt from 1990s nu-metal icons Limp Bizkit, Gold Cobra (#16, 27,000), and the self-titled album from a reunited Taking Back Sunday (#17, 27,000).
Country star Blake Shelton clearly benefited from his turn on the NBC hit reality singing program "The Voice," as his Loaded: The Best of Blake Shelton rises 42 spots to #18 as sales ballooned by 182 percent to 25,000. Meanwhile, Maroon 5's latest, Hands All Over, also saw a bump thanks to singer Adam Levine's gig on "Voice," jumping 47 spots to #26 as sales went up 139 percent to 18,000. Judge Christina Aguilera saw a more modest uptick, with her 2008 greatest-hits album, Keeps Gettin' Better, re-entering the charts at #46 on sales of 12,000.
Fans also welcomed back beloved dusty folk singer Gillian Welch, whose first album in eight years, The Harrow & the Harvest, hits #20 (23,000).
Also charting: rapper Curren$y with Weekend at Burnie's (#22, 23,000), "Idol" season 10 runner-up Lauren Alaina with her debut EP (#24, 20,000) and third-place finisher Haley Reinhart with hers (#37, 14,000).
Over on the iTunes charts, Beyoncé rules the albums list, followed by Sean, Adele, Gomez, Shelton's greatest hits, Bon Iver, the resurgent Maroon 5, Cook, Eminem and Royce and Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More. In an indication of why her sales might be less than impressive, Bey doesn't have a single song on the iTunes singles chart, which is led by LMFAO's "Party Rock," which beats out Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)," Pitbull's "Give Me Everything," Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" and "Voice" winner Javier Colon's "Stitch by Stitch."
Adele holds on to the #6 slot with "Rolling in the Deep," with "Voice" runner-up Dia Frampton just behind with "Inventing Shadows." She is followed by Hot Chelle Rae's "Tonight Tonight," Lil Wayne's "How to Love" and Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory."
With no major releases hitting stores this week, look for Beyoncé and Adele to duke it out for the top slot in the next cycle.