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Eminem scores 2009's best debut, and who's the fairest 'Idol' of them all?*

May 27, 2009 | 12:37 pm

Eminem_karin_catt_3_Eminem hasn’t had any trouble generating headlines since he announced that he’d be unleashing a new album late last year. On “Relapse,” he’s taking shots at Mariah Carey and getting graphic when rapping about “Hannah Montana,”  which almost guarantees that the rapper will continue to be a media obsession.

But does his pop culture outlaw act still generate album sales? First-week returns for Aftermath/Interscope’s “Relapse” indicate Eminem’s audience has diminished slightly, but it’s still a sizable one. “Relapse” sold 608,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, giving the artist the largest debut of 2009 and best first week since AC/DC’s “Black Ice” arrived with 784,000 copies last October, according to Billboard.

Overall album sales have diminished significantly from Eminem’s height in the late ‘90s and the start of the new decade, when it was expected that an album bearing his name would top first-week sales of 1 million copies. Lil Wayneaccomplished the feat last year with his Cash Money/Universal album “Tha Carter III,” and Eminem can still generate plenty of attention, but not that kind of heat.

When last we heard from the rapper, his late 2004 effort  “Encore” was able to sell 711,000 copies in just three days. The album was released off-cycle on a Friday, and in its first full week in stores it went on to sell 871,000 copies. The album’s 10-day total topped 1.5 million copies sold, a tally Eminem probably won’t reach in the coming weeks.

To date, AC/DC’s “Black Ice” (Columbia) has sold about 2 million copies. As for 2009’s other blockbuster albums, they’re still struggling to top the 1 million mark. U2’s “No Line on the Horizon” (Interscope) opened strong, tallying 484,000 copies in its first week, and is getting closer to the seven-figure mark, having sold 902,000 copies to date.

Kelly Clarkson’s “All I Ever Wanted” (RCA) won rave reviews and debuted with 255,000 copies sold but has petered out at around 581,000 copies. Disney’s soundtrack to “Hannah Montana: The Movie” opened lower, with 139,000 copies sold in its first week, but has since taken off, and now stands at 952,000 and should top 1 million sold in the next two weeks.

Last week’s topper, Green Day’s Reprise set “21st Century Breakdown,” brought in 166,000 copies in its first full week in stores. It sold 215,000 copies in a shortened sales week, having been released on a Friday, and stands with a 10-day total of 381,000 copies sold.

Aside from Eminem, the other big sales news this week comes from “American Idol.”  In the battle between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen fans, both sects can claim a victory of sorts this week.

On the album chart, Lambert’s digital-only collection of performances from the reality series outsold a similar compilation from Allen. Lambert’s “Season 8 Favorite Performances” entered at No. 33 with 16,000 copies sold, whereas Allen’s collection landed a little farther down at No. 50, tallying just over 10,000 downloads.

But that’s only half the story. In terms of digital singles, Allen outsold Lambert by a landslide. Looking at their combined sales totals in the top-200 selling digital songs, including duets and pairings with other “Idols,” SoundScan reports that Allen sold 499,000 downloads compared with the 393,000 downloads moved by Lambert.

That being said, Lambert placed more singles overall in the top 200 -- 15 to Allen's 11 -- but Allen’s got two in the top 10, compared with Lambert's one. Allen’s winning ballad, “No Boundaries,” is at No. 4, having sold 134,000 downloads.

But here’s perhaps a long-term concern. Billboard reminds us that David Cook’s “American Idol”-winning tune, “The Time of My Life,” sold significantly more, with 236,000 downloads. Simply a better song, or a sign that Allen and Lambert don’t have the sales-potential of Cook?

Additionally,a cover of Journey’s never-say-die “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” out-clipped the “Idol” winner, despite appearing on a show with far less viewers. The cover, from Fox’s musical comedy “Glee,” sold 177,000 downloads.

Meanwhile, the original is still on the chart in its 125th week, sitting at No. 63 this week and bringing in another 42,000 downloads. To date, the cut has sold more than 2.71 million downloads, by far the largest of any catalog title.

There’s a host of other major debuts on the album chart. A quick run-down of some of the notables:

- Kenny Chesney went CD-only for his “Greatest Hits 2” (BNA/SMN) collection, and the album lands at No. 3 with 89,000 copies sold. Billboard reports that it is the eighth top-10 album of his career.

- Dane Cook earns his second top-10 album with “Isolated Incident,” a set that sold 61,000 copies in its first week in stores. His 2005 effort, “Retaliation,” spent 84 weeks on the big chart.

Tori Amos’ first effort for Universal Republic, “Abnormally Attracted to Sin,” opens at No. 9 with 41,000 copies sold. Her 2007 album for Epic, “American Doll Posse,” also landed in the top 10, but had a higher first week with 54,000 copies sold, according to Billboard’s archives.

- On a more independent note, a rarities and B-sided compilation from Sub Pop’s folksy Iron & Wine, “Around the Well,” enters at No. 25 with 18,000 copies sold. A little farther down, Passion Pit’s electro-pop debut “Manners” (Frenchkiss) arrives with at No. 51 after selling 10,000 copies.

--Todd Martens

Photo: Eminem. Credit: Karin Catt

Update: Nielsen SoundScan re-ran today's digital chart, which then gave Lambert 15 songs in top-200. An earlier post noted he had 14.