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New Edition Edges Out R.E.M. at Top of Charts

September 19, 1996|ROBERT HILBURN and JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

R.E.M. may be basking in the glow of having just signed the largest contract ever in the record industry, but its new album had to settle for second place Wednesday in the latest pop chart.

New Edition's reunion collection, "Home Again," sold approximately 227,300 copies in its first week in the stores, edging out R.E.M.'s "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" by fewer than 1,000 albums, according to SoundScan.

"Home Again" had been expected to sell well because it is the first album in eight years by an R&B group that was a huge seller in the 1980s and spun off several solo artists, including Bobby Brown.

"This is especially gratifying because there was so much industry skepticism involving the return of New Edition--whether the guys were capable of delivering a great record and whether the pop world would react," Jay Boberg, president of MCA Records, said Wednesday.

The surprise is that R.E.M., which signed a five-album, $80-million contract with Warner Bros. Records last month, didn't fare better. Sales were down an estimated 35% from the 344,000 registered by the group's last album, "Monster," during its first week in the stores in the fall of 1994.

Coming on the heels of a recent disappointing first week showing by Pearl Jam's new "No Code" (whose sales were off some 60% from the 877,000 total of 1994's "Vitalogy"), industry observers Wednesday were wondering if the slow starts were a sign of trouble ahead for record retailers during the normally lucrative holiday season. Pearl Jam--which, after two weeks at No. 1, dropped to sixth place this week based on sales of 96,000 copies--and R.E.M. were both viewed as major contenders.

"I'm not really surprised about New Edition," Bob Feterl, regional manager for Tower Records, said Wednesday. "But R.E.M.--I thought that was going to be closer to 400,000."

But Feterl and other retailers are anticipating strong sales generally for the industry during the remainder of 1996 and predict the R.E.M. album will still do well.

Warner Bros. Records, too, expressed confidence in its artists.

"Warner Bros.' vision for R.E.M. and the album is certainly not based on one week of sales, and the work we have begun on this record will continue far into the future," said Karen Moss, senior vice president of publicity for the label. "It's not about where we start, but where we finish."

New Edition and R.E.M. were joined in the Top 10 by three other albums making their chart debuts: Blackstreet's "Another Level," which sold about 134,000 copies and came in at No. 3; Rush's "Test for Echo," which sold 115,000 and is No. 5; and John Mellencamp's "Mr. Happy Go Lucky," which sold 78,000 and is No. 9.

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