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Analysis: UK albums and singles market

Days after latest BPI figures showed that the total number of albums sold in the 12 month period ending September were the highest on record, sales in the run-up to Christmas 2004 continue to provide cause for concern, writes Alan Jones.

Although the total number of albums sold last week, according to OCC data, was 4,770,616 - the highest tally of the year and a 19.2% increase week-on-week - it was 12.4% below the same week last year, when 5,448,565 albums were sold.

The weakness appears to be throughout the market - in the comparative week last year 103 albums (66 artist and 37 compilation) sold more than 10,000 copies, while last week saw only 82 (58 artist, 24 compilation) albums make five figure sales.

Looking on the bright side, U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb debuts atop the artist album chart outselling its 2003 counterpart - Westlife's Turnaround - by a hefty 30% margin. Atomic Bomb's sales of 200,863 last week represent the fourth highest weekly tally by a number one album this year, trailing Norah Jones' 235,890 tally with Feels Like Home in February, George Michael's 274,816 opening with Patience in May, and the 320,081 copies Robbie Williams' Greatest Hits sold within a week of release in October. U2's lead at the top of the chart is huge - Eminem, who slips to number two after a fortnight in pole position, sold 90,656 copies of Encore last week.

U2's only other album of new material this century, All That You Can't Leave Behind, opened with sales of 164,000 copies in 2000. Their 1987 album The Joshua Tree opened with 235,000 sales and Rattle & Hum exceeded 360,000 the following year. Atomic Bomb is U2's ninth number one album. The only groups with more: the Beatles (15) and the Rolling Stones (10). Abba, Queen and the Shadows also have nine apiece.

The only other new entry in the Top 10 comes from Kylie Minogue, who registers her 10th Top 10 album with Ultimate Kylie, which opens at number four after selling 82,822 copies. Her 1992 chart-topper Greatest Hits contained 22 tracks but Minogue's continuing success means that the new Ultimate Kylie set has to accommodate more. In fact, it contains 33 songs - 32 than have already been hits plus next single Giving You Up. Surprisingly, six of Kylie's hits don't appear on the album, even though the 2CD set could hold another 40 minutes of music. Five of the excluded songs missed the Top 10, but the album also ignores If You Were With Me Now, a duet with Keith Washington which reached number four in 1991.

On the singles chart there's the rare sight of an unchanged top three. Geri Halliwell, Christina Aguilera & Nelly and Brian McFadden have all had number ones, but have to settle for providing the chart's highest new entries at four, five and six respectively this week with none of them able to break the 20,000 sales barrier. Their failure to do so means Girls Aloud, Destiny's Child and Lemar stay in the medal positions, even though their sales are down 48%, 28% and 26% on last week respectively.

Girls Aloud's I'll Stand By You has the fourth lowest tally for a number one this year, selling just 29,992 copies last week. More remarkably, Destiny's Child's Lose My Breath has remained at number two throughout its four-week chart career, though its sales have fallen 61,287-48,155-30,876-22,286 along the way. It's the first record to spend its first four weeks in the chart at number two since 1988, when Kylie Minogue's third single The Loco-Motion did likewise.

Back after a three-year break, Geri Halliwell has the week's highest debut, entering at number four with Ride It, her eighth solo single, all of which have made the Top 10. Halliwell, of course, also featured on the first eight Spice Girls singles (seven number ones and a number two) and has thus reached the Top 10 with her first 16 singles. That's the best ever opening sequence for a female recording artist, beating the 13 Top 10 hits in a row amassed by Kylie Minogue between 1988 and 1991. Ride It's first week sales tally of 19,196 represent Halliwell's weakest start to date, however, falling below even Scream If You Wanna Go Faster, her lowest charting single, which opened at number eight in 2001, but sold 27,458 copies on its first week in the shops.

Enjoying her second top five hit duet in a month, Christina Aguilera and latest partner Nelly debut at number five with Tilt Ya Head Back - the same position claimed by her Car Wash duet with Missy Elliott earlier this month. Aguilera has now had 13 hits, six of them collaborations. Tilt Ya Head Back is Nelly's 12th hit. It is taken from Sweat, hitherto the less successful of Nelly's two simultaneously released albums with sales of 63,788, compared to the 88,163 sales of Suit, which has been propelled to its larger tally by dint of containing My Place, the most popular of two songs on Nelly's recent number one. Neither album is currently in the Top 75, though Sweat now has the upper hand, and is currently number 111, with Suit 13 places lower.

Finally, with debut solo album Irish Son out today (Monday), Brian McFadden must have been hoping the title track would emulate first single Real To Me, which debuted at number one in September with first week sales of 35,438. Irish Son didn't even make half that total last week, however, and sold just 16,009 copies to debut at number six.

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