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 Goldenvoice spokesperson 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% from the comparable week in 2010, and 13% 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.