First-week sales of U2's "No Line on the Horizon" brought the superstar rock band back down to Earth. The album, given the band's stature and sales history, was essentially preordained to debut atop the U.S. pop charts. The only question was how many it would sell.
The Interscope album sold a brisk 484,000 copies in the U.S., according to data from Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks album sales. It's the biggest first-week tally since Britney Spears' "Circus" sold 505,000 copies during the holiday season last year.
But the number everyone will talk about is 840,000. That's what U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" sold when it debuted at No. 1 in 2004. Another recent barometer, the U2-influenced band Coldplay's album "Viva la Vida," sold more than 700,000 units when it was released last year.
Although the 356,000-unit sales gap between U2's two most recent albums can certainly be attributed to ongoing declines in CD sales, a closer look at U2's sales stats suggests that "Atomic Bomb" was an aberration in the career of the Irish superstars.
"Certainly this is not the 800 [thousand] that the last album did, but that was more than four years ago -- in a different kind of economy, a different kind of music-buyer landscape, and it came out Thanksgiving week," Billboard chart analyst Keith Caulfield said.
U2's 2000 release "All That You Can Leave Behind" opened with sales of 428,000 copies. Before "Behind," U2's highest debut in the pre-file-sharing era came from 1993's "Zooropa," which launched with sales of 377,000 copies. SoundScan began tracking sales data in 1991.
"Behind" reestablished U2 as a force on rock radio, spawning hits such as "Beautiful Day" and "Elevation."
The trend continued into the release of "Atomic Bomb," as its single "Vertigo" topped Billboard's modern rock chart and was the cornerstone of an inescapable Apple iPod commercial. When "Atomic Bomb" was released near Thanksgiving in 2004, "Vertigo" was already a top-40 hit on the U.S. singles chart.
That kind of radio success has eluded U2 so far with "No Line on the Horizon," despite a massive marketing blitz in which the band performed during the Grammy Awards and had a weeklong stint on "Late Show With David Letterman." When Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" topped the U.S. pop chart in June with sales of 721,000 copies, the title cut was on its way to hitting No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart.
By comparison, U2's current single, "Get On Your Boots," has only sporadically appeared on the chart and is barely holding on at No. 96. SoundScan reports that the cut has sold 188,000 digital copies to date. Meanwhile, rapper Flo Rida is setting digital sales records with one-week totals such as 636,000.
U2's "last album was kind of an anomaly," Caulfield said. "Could they have done more? Sure. Lil Wayne did 1 million, but I don't think this is going to drop off the chart next week."
Perhaps not, but the real test for U2 is likely to come this summer, when the band begins its U2360 stadium tour. A Los Angeles date has not yet been set for the tour, the first produced by Live Nation Inc. as part of U2's 12-year, multifaceted arrangement with the Beverly Hills promoter.
The band's last tour, tied to the release of "Vertigo" in 2005, was the second-highest-grossing tour ever, bringing in estimated revenue of $389 million, according to Billboard.
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Top albums of the week:
1 No Line on the Horizon
(U2) 484,000 albums sold
(Taylor Swift) 52,000
3 Middle Cyclone (Neko Case) 44,000
4 Fame (Lady Gaga) 42,000
5 Dark Horse
Source: Nielsen Soundscan
Top songs of the week:
1 Right Round
2 Poker Face
3 The Climb
4 Kiss Me Thru the Phone (Soulja Boy Tell 'Em)
5 Dead and Gone
Songs getting the most
1 Dead and Gone
(T.I. Featuring Justin
4 Love Story
5 Just Dance (Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O'Donis)
Source: Nielsen BDS