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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

She's Invited Great Hopes

Retailers expect big things from Morissette's follow-up to 'Jagged Little Pill.'

October 11, 1998|Steve Hochman

If Las Vegas sports books took bets on how well albums would sell, they might have a little trouble setting the odds this season, with an impressive and large pack of superstar releases coming for pre-Christmas shoppers.

Such proven names as Garth Brooks, Jewel, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Ice Cube, R. Kelly, Tupac Shakur, U2, R.E.M., Metallica, TLC, Bruce Springsteen and even John Lennon are in the race.

But the nation's leading music retailers--who actually do bet on the acts, based on how many copies of albums they plan to buy and stock--are by and large putting their money on one name as the sure thing for the winner's circle: Alanis Morissette.

Retailers are confident that the singer will score huge sales with "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie," due Nov. 3 as the follow-up to her 15-million-selling 1996 album, "Jagged Little Pill."

Hunger for new music from Morissette (who plays the Hollywood Palladium on Wednesday) has already been demonstrated with the big radio and consumer response to "Uninvited," a song she contributed to the summer's "City of Angels" soundtrack album, and the tremendous multi-format radio domination of "Thank U," the track released recently in advance of "Junkie."

"She's just so far above everything else," says Violet Brown, urban music buyer for the Wherehouse chain. "I think she'll have the biggest first-week sales of the year, which is saying a lot considering the Beastie Boys' number [about 670,000]. But her audience is so much broader than even the Beasties'. And every track I've heard so far sounds really good."

Jim Litwak, executive vice president of Trans World International, with 520 outlets nationwide, sees a female triumvirate leading the way through Christmas: Morissette followed by Celine Dion's season-oriented "These Are Special Times" (due Oct. 27) and Jewel's untitled follow-up to her 6-million-selling debut "Pieces of You" (Nov. 17).

One dissenting view comes from Scott Levin, director of marketing and audio for Musicland's 935 stores.

"I think [Morissette's album] will be huge, don't get me wrong," he says. "But with all the other things coming out, I just don't think it's guaranteed to be the runaway smash No. 1 record of the season. It will be its first week, but will it have the legs to run on?"

If retailers have any problem, it's that too much star product is coming at once. Nov. 17, for example, will see new releases from Brooks, Houston, Ice Cube, Jewel, Metallica and Nas, along with the three "Prince of Egypt" soundtrack collections, all fighting for store space and consumer dollars.

"It would be nice if the record companies could spread some of this out," says Tom Overby, head of special projects for the Best Buy discount stores. "Throughout November there are decisions the customer will have to make, and you just hope they decide to come back more than once."

Says Litwak: "Unfortunately, that's the way of the music business. And I'd rather have this wealth of product than be too worried about where it should go in the calendar."

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THE ALSO-RANS: Breaking the releases down genre by genre, some other favorites emerge in the planning of the retailers.

Country--No one would dare bet against Brooks, and his "Garth Double Live," due Nov. 17, is no exception. Deana Carter, though, is looked to as a strong runner-up with big crossover potential seen for her "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," due Oct. 20.

Hip-hop--Always a tough one to call, but a few established figures make the safest bets. Ice Cube, Brown says, will keep fans coming into her stores for weeks, while two posthumous Shakur releases also will be strong. Others who will figure include Method Man, Kurupt, Mack 10 and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's Bizzy Bone.

Rock--Metallica's still-untitled set of B-sides and covers, including material from the long-unavailable "Garage Days Revisited" album, is expected to be a treasure. "The 'Garage Days' stuff is the Holy Grail right now for Metallica fans," says Best Buy's Overby.

R&B--Look for R. Kelly to keep on flying with "R.," a two-CD set that includes a duet with Celine Dion. "Bad Boy's Greatest Hits," a collection of top singles from Sean "Puffy" Combs' scorching label, is also a big contender. TLC's "Fan Mail," a longtime coming after 1994's huge "CrazySexyCool," is seen as something of a question mark.

Christmas albums--Dion's collection, also featuring the R. Kelly duet, could register some titanic numbers. Levin also looks for teen-poppers N' Sync's Christmas album to make a big splash.

Soundtracks--A Houston-Carey duet could carry "The Prince of Egypt" soundtrack to pop's promised land. Levin notes that it, as well as associated gospel and country albums, could benefit from DreamWorks' decision not to do licensing for toys and other items or promotional tie-ins with fast-food chains in deference to the film's biblical source material.

Rebounding veterans--Retailers have more confidence in a collection of U2's '80s hits--especially the first pressing featuring a bonus disc of B-sides--than an all-new album from R.E.M.

Boxed sets--Springsteen vs. Lennon, with each icon's vaults mined for previously unreleased material, is too close to call. Litwak, with a lot of stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, gives the nod to the Boss. Overby looks at the strength in recent years of Beatles archival sets and chooses Lennon by a nose.

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