I'm consistently entertained by the ever-growing gap between the two methods of music consumption - the old-school world of freshly minted CDs and eager shop-bound purchases, and the bold new age of digital purchasers, where music is brought to the consumer by means of a single click. The different issues this throws up are nicely highlighted this week by the two stories that developed at the summit of the singles and albums charts.
The story of the album chart was the simultaneous release of two almost identically titled albums and no small measure of concern about whether there was going to be enough product available to satisfy demand. Having enough people to buy your music is one thing, actually getting the stuff into the shops is another thing altogether, and the collapse into administration a week ago of the Woolworths group and in particular its distribution arm EUK left several labels scrambling for alternatives. EUK's share of the market was quite considerable, with many of the majors trusting the logistics of getting discs into stores to the company. With its future on a less than sound financial footing, handing over thousands of freshly pressed CDs was seen as more of a risk than many were willing to take and so at the very last minute some important plans were changed. This left more than few retailers sweating on the prospect of consumers seeking copies of both The Circus by Take That and Circus by Britney Spears and the nightmare scenario that they would run short of stock within a few days - just as the Christmas shopping rush got into full swing.
In the end, it appears that any problems of supply were limited, but far from being the two horse race many predicted, it is Take That who end up the runaway winners. They crash into the Number One position and leaving Ms Spears languishing at Number 4. The chances of the man band having the biggest selling album of the holiday period look extremely likely.
This will inevitably sweeten the pill of seeing their single Greatest Day deposed from its own Number One position after a solitary week, replaced instead by the lady who is fast becoming their own chart nemesis. In one of those strange coincidences that synchronised release schedules sometimes manage to throw up, they are replaced at Number One by the same act that deposed Patience from the top in 2006 and who prevented Rule The World from topping the chart in 2007 - Leona Lewis.
She does so with a track that is firmly in the new world of digital sales, for not only is Run technically nothing more than an album track subject to enormous public demand, but in seven days it has notched up a staggering 133,000 downloaded copies - officially the greatest ever single week sale for an exclusively digital track. Much as we criticised the decision of her label to delay the digital availability of the brand new tracks from the deluxe re-release of her debut album Spirit, it now looks to be a masterstroke of marketing. Following her show-stopping debut of the recording on the X Factor show a few weeks ago and near saturation airplay ever since, her mesmerising cover of the Snow Patrol hit has been the most anticipated single release I can remember for some considerable time. A Number One (her third, for anyone counting) was all but guaranteed but I don't think anyone could have predicted just what a success it has turned out to be.
For all that, opinion on the single itself is actually rather divided. It is a theme that will actually become even more relevant as we march towards the Christmas chart, but your view on the record is almost certainly coloured by your regard for the original version (which slips to Number 42 this week following its own spontaneous resurrection a fortnight ago). If you thought Snow Patrol were definitive, then the lavish production of the Leona Lewis version and her trademark vocal trilling will seem rather irritating and will only serve to suck the life out of the simple beauty of the song. On the other hand, if you are like me and had little regard for the original, then you will be absolutely knocked sideways by this new version. Leona's Run is that rare beast, a pop record with the power to knock you sideways with its intensity and all but compel you to pay close attention to the crystal clear beauty of her voice and the way it drags the track to a whole new level.
Its success, and commanding lead over the rest of the market, means that Run is in pole position to head the "Christmas Number One without X Factor" market, and indeed Paddy Power at the time of writing has the track installed as the 10-11 odds-on favourite. Listeners to the podcast three weeks ago who took me up on my advice to back her then when she was as far out as 8-1 should be well on their way to a nice early Christmas bonus. [Always expect the unexpected].
Now she may have missed out in the albums race, but the week-long Britney Spears bandwagon that has rolled into town has at least helped her where singles are concerned. Lead track Womanizer which had fallen as far back as Number 9 a fortnight ago rebounds in spectacular fashion to land a brand new peak of Number 3. Perhaps more intriguingly though is the unexpected Top 40 debut at Number 32 of the albums title track Circus. Already being promoted to radio Stateside, and with the release of its video brought forward this week following an internet leak, the track is technically slated to be her next single proper on these shores too - but not until well into the new year. This may, of course, be just a one-off bounce thanks to cherrypicking of the best tracks from the album (of which 'Circus' is most definitely one) but it does mean that the eventual impact of the new single is going to be lessened when it finally does make its way onto release schedules.
The two Britney singles are actually just a small part of an extraordinary characteristic of this weeks Top 10. No less than eight of the ten acts at the top of the table can boast two (and in one case three) simultaneous Top 40 singles at the present time. Just count them:
Leona Lewis - Run (No.1) and Forgive Me (No.24)
Take That - Greatest Day (No.2) and Rule The World (No.40)
Britney Spears - Womanizer (No.3) and Circus (No.32)
Katy Perry - Hot N Cold (No.4) and I Kissed A Girl (No.38)
Beyonce - If I Were A Boy (No.6) and Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) (No.37)
Rihanna - Live Your Life (No.7 with TI), Rehab (No.20) and Disturbia (No.35)
Akon - Right Now (Na Na Na) (No.8) and Dangerous (No.26 with Kardinal Offishall)
Kings Of Leon - Use Somebody (No.10) and Sex On Fire (No.14)
What if Oasis released a new single and nobody really cared? Such is the fate that has befallen I'm Outta Time which makes its chart debut at Number 12 as the second chart single from the Dig Out Your Soul album. Their problem is that with this album they have fallen victim to what I term "Depeche Mode syndrome" where a long-established act slips into a seemingly endless pattern of releasing albums that are no better and no worse than any of their others, but which as a consequence make little or no cultural impact and sell only to an ever constant hardcore of collectors and fans. When I voiced this theory to a well-known industry mogul once he responded with "who are we to make value judgements ?" Well sorry, but I am. I want to hear great acts making music that still matters, that adds to their opus and which dare I say it, has a point to it and proves they still have something to contribute. By charting at Number 12 and almost inevitably progressing no further, I'm Outta Time is destined to become only the third official Oasis single ever to miss the Top 10, and the first to fall short since Shakermaker hit Number 11 way back in the summer of 1994.
Seeing as we are two weeks away from the Christmas chart, we must naturally pay due attention to the arrival of an important annual tradition. I refer of course to the one achingly credible club hit which always seems to grab itself a place in the Christmas charts and which serves as an oddly comforting reminder that it isn't all about sentimental slush and irritating novelty hits which have no business muscling in on the most hectic sales period of the year. Leading the charge to become this years Heartbroken or Boogie 2Nite is Cash In My Pocket from Wiley which lands at Number 18. Technically it is actually just the follow-up to his breakthrough smash hit Wearing My Rolex from earlier in the summer, but in a chart that is largely devoid for the moment of any strong influences from clubland (I'm still of a generation which is having trouble adjusting to the notion of Guru Josh being cool), it is worth welcoming the single as a neat injection of credibility. I suspect however that it will be heading south before the parties really kick in which is a bit of a shame. Also featuring on the single is Daniel Merriweather, the Australian singer who first came to attention as the vocalist on Mark Ronson's Stop Me in 2007. Reports are that he has a solo album of his own set for release in 2009, so chalk him up as a name to watch out for.
OK, then I'll stop teasing. What is now certain to become the annual invasion of the Christmas classics is well underway with All I Want For Christmas Is You now charting at Number 17, Fairytale Of New York arriving at Number 19 and Last Christmas at Number 36. As an entertaining diversion, bookmakers such as Paddy Power are also publishing odds on what will be the highest charting seasonal classic come Christmas week itself. Based on last years performance (and it seems chart trends thus far) it is the Mariah Carey track which is the clear favourite with The Pogues not far behind. If we are short of amusement in a fortnights time, I may take time out to note whether the Christmas hits all line up in the same sales order as last year. How strange would that be?
Gratuitous plugs to end with this week, remember the annual Record Of The Year TV shows from a few years back? Well, the organisers still run the popular vote online even in the absence of a televised special. At the moment the race is too close to call, although thankfully the early lead of Rockstar is well on its way to being whittled away to nothing.
Also of interest to chart fans is a two-part BBC Radio 2 documentary on our favourite musical medium "Straight In At Number One" which is being broadcast on Saturday nights at the moment. Part One went out last weekend, with Part Two following at 7pm. Yes, it cleverly clashes with the X Factor final but it is worth checking out via your preferred catch-up service. You may recognise at least one of the "experts" featured within. [Me. Oh, you guessed].
Oh yes, and if we are permitted a small flashback to the events of four weeks ago it was fun to read some disparaging comments in relation to my reaction to Will Young's track Grace bombing out at Number 35. "James Masterton need shed no tears for Will Young's new single Grace reaching 35 in the charts, it's not released until Dec.1st. Do try to keep up James!" was one of my favourite ones. This week the single was indeed released "properly" and bounces back from the depths to a new peak of, er Number 33. Still far and away his worst chart performance ever and one that more or less kills any further promotion for the album stone dead. See, I'm not always just pretending to know what I'm talking about. Do try to keep up.