Monday, August 11, 2003

CHARTYWATCH: At the end of a long evening, a man walks towards me bearing the new album chart and with a curious look of outrage on his face. "Robbie Williams escapology has returned to the number one slot in the album chart - off the back of those megagigs last weekend. And can you now sit there and tell us that, really, Robbie is over?"

I sigh and put down my Jamesons and Coke. "You're suggesting that an album by - supposedly - EMI's biggest act returning to number one after some thirty-eight weeks - off the back of an enormous, enormous PR push - is some sort of indication of this artist's rude health? What is suggests to me is that there were a lot of people who would have been expected to have bought the album before, who took a hell of a lot of persuading to actually go out and get the bloody thing. Yes, it's sold thousands this week, but look at the shove that that took. This last whirl of publicity and the too-large-by-a-third gigs haven't been about converting new people into the way of Robbie, but merely trying to bring back some people who'd got lost. Quite simply, an artist at the height of his powers wouldn't need to fill Knebworth, block the motorway, do a week with Sara Cox, tonnes of press, chummy up with Wayne Rooney, persuade his former oppo to hop up on stage, try and get TV companies interested and generally squeeze for all his worth to move some copies of his album. Frankly, it's shocking that there were enough people who took all that persuading to return the album to the top. Robbie isn't over - I suspect we'll never see the back of him; however, his power is now ebbing away. If you look down at the bottom end of the chart, you'll note that his older, more successful albums (with the more popular songs on) only had enough juice left to lift them to the low 70's. Now, do you want to go and explain to the Tories why a four point lead over Labour at this stage in the parliamentary cycle isn't actually anything to celebrate, or shall I?"

Elsewhere in the album chart, of course, the rise of "Proper" music continues to be rewarded, with the Top Ten still featuring the Coral, the Darkness, the Kings of Leon and (if we must) the Stereophonics. The highest new album entry is the perhaps slightly despondent Kraftwerk Tour De France Soundtracks (21), proving that there's life in the old hard-wired sorts still, but maybe not enough to make it worth buying new batteries. Charlie Landsborough's Smile hits 55, making just two new entries in the entire list. Maybe everyone thought it was too hot to get down to Virgin. The sound of Kym Marsh's "career" coughing itself to a painful death in the corner continues, as our big net has managed to dredge the third-week chart position of Standing Tall (it's at 47 - we'd imagine her management are grinning and saying "it's still in the top fifty, Kym... keep confident... keep smiling" while booking her slots calling the numbers at Mecca Bingo Halls up and down the country). And, as a little numerical curiosity, Eminem gave up the number 31 slot to Gentleman Jim Reeves best of, something we'd like to see actually acted out.

If the album chart has been merely shuffling, the singles chart has been the scene of more excitement. Blu Cantrell remains at number one, but Ultrabeat's Pretty Green Eyes puts in a solid challenge at number 2; the frankly now-rather-unnecessary Cheeky Girls even more pointless reworking of Boney M enters at 3 (Hooray, Hooray, It's A Cheeky Holiday) and The Real Cute One Out of Take That, Mark Owen, puts in his first chart appearance in something like five years with Four Minute Warning at number 4. Pharrell Williams and Jay Z's Frontin (6); J Nevin's I'm In Heaven (9); Can't Let You Go by Fabolos (14) and Fallen Angel by Elbow (19) also enter the twenty, as does Kelly Rowland, although Train on a Track's shuffling to 20 will cause no little upsetment for the supposed other power of Destiny's Child.

We're delighted to see Howie Payne finally getting some sales recognition - The Stands are fresh at thirty-two this week and, having got so close with Blueseed even a curmudgeon like me can tip a hat to his delayed success. And a slap on the back to 4 Tune 500, who haven't let having a really shite name stop them from being this week's Angelwitch award, entering with their first single at number 75.

[It's our blogcritics party piece]

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