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Two Sides to Pearl Jam's Album Sales

Pop music: 'No Code' is No. 1 in its first week but way off numbers from the band's two previous albums. Dearth of videos and tour dates cited.

September 05, 1996|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is Pearl Jam's aversion to such conventional record industry promotional tools as videos and marathon tours starting to hurt the band's album sales?

That's a question some industry observers were asking Wednesday after SoundScan reported that first-week sales of the Seattle rock group's new "No Code" album were down sharply from the blockbuster first-week totals of its last two releases.

While still entering the charts at No. 1, "No Code" sold approximately 367,000 copies compared with the 950,000 first-week figure of "Vs." in 1993--the highest first-week total since SoundScan began monitoring U.S. record sales in 1991. Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy" album in 1994 sold a whopping 877,000 in its first week. The highest first-week total so far in 1996 is the 680,000 registered by Metallica's "Load" in June.

Pearl Jam hasn't released a video in recent years and the band has only done a few dozen live shows since the "Vitalogy" album, partially due to its decision to avoid using Ticketmaster, the nation's largest concert ticket distribution firm.

The band and its manager were not available for comment, but retailers expressed disappointment that the album, which they were counting on to help lead the year-end sales rush, didn't come closer to the earlier marks. Most, however, still expect the album to be a factor in the holiday sales sweepstakes.

"The numbers are definitely softer than what most retailers were looking for," said Bob Bell, new release buyer for the 280-store Wherehouse chain. "There are any number of reasons. When 'Vs.' came out, it was the first new Pearl Jam album since the band broke through [to stardom], which accounted for some of the hysteria that surrounded that release. And 'Vitalogy' had the benefit of coming out in December [amid the holiday sales rush].

"Now that they've put out a few records, it may not be reasonable to expect that every time they are going to break some SoundScan record. I'm sure it will do well over time."

Radio programmers, too, predict the album will pick up steam. "We still play a ton of their songs and they're still a large act for us," said Lisa Worden, music director at KROQ-FM in Los Angeles.

Several of those questioned mentioned the touring factor, suggesting that the group needs to reconnect with fans by doing a major national tour, even if it means using Ticketmaster venues.

Pearl Jam begins a tour on Sept. 16 in Seattle, but it only includes 12 North American dates--the rest all on the East Coast--and 19 European shows. Additional U.S. tour dates are expected to be announced.

Times staff writer Cheo Hodari Coker contributed to this report.

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