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Back For Good
Take That have form where seasonal mega-sales are concerned.
Back in 2010 their album Progress marked a grand reunion with Robbie Williams, restoring the group to a five-piece for the first time since 1995. More successful than anyone could have imagined, the album spent the month of December at the top of the charts, in the process racking up weekly sales of 203000, 330000 and 350000 in the three weeks leading up to Christmas.
But that was 8 years ago. They are now a three-piece, older and wiser and a little greyer around the temples. Perhaps, more importantly, we are in a brand new era where physical and even digital sales of albums have wilted in the face of the streaming revolution and the transformation of the high streets which mean all but a few record stores themselves have vanished. This week, however, the group demonstrated that when the circumstances are right, they are capable of winding the clock back to inspire memories of sales performances of old. The occasion was the release of their new album Odyssey, a quasi-Greatest Hits collection featuring reworked versions of many of their older numbers. All to celebrate what they are calling their "30th anniversary" - even though their first ever hit singles didn't arrive until 1991. The promotion of the collection has been masterfully done, the ageing stars popping up at every turn to sell the whole idea of "we've been around forever, so here is our legacy laid out".
Well, Odyssey sold. In what, in relative terms, are huge numbers. The album rockets straight to the top of the charts with a huge combined sale of almost 106,000 units. That's far and away the biggest single week sale achieved by any artist album in almost a year. The last long player to sell over 100,000 copies was Eminem's Revival which managed 133,000 at the turn of January. The only disc to have achieved a larger sale this year was Now That's What I Call Music! Volume 100.
Put it any way you like, Take That were huge. And the fascinating thing is that they've sold in these numbers despite long having moved past the ability or indeed the need to have hit singles. Odyssey was preceded in the market by one of its three new tracks, but Out Of Our Heads failed to reach the Top 100 at all.
Four Down, Three To Go
Over on the Official UK Singles chart, Ariana Grande's domination, well it just continues. That's really all you can say about it. Mark up four weeks at Number One for thank u, next. The single posts another huge chart sale of over 55,000 copies and enjoys a 20,000 charts sales lead over nearest rivals Little Mix, who hold firm at Number 2. As we edge ever closer to the end of December talk about what could be the Christmas Number One has started to crank into gear. Yet all the speculation will mean little if thank u, next continues in the manner in which it has done so to date. It's a megahit, one which is immovable at the top of the market and the kind where, in truth, we are just waiting for ACR to hit it and move it on. And that's bad news for any Christmas chart race speculation. The single still has gas left in the tank as well. Literally as I write these words on Friday evening the video for the track has finally dropped. Which all means extra YouTube plays and extra streaming sales to add to its total next time around. A fifth week (of the seven it requires to top the charts for Christmas) seems almost certain to be in the bag.
Don't Ruin Your Makeup
People are still attempting to put clever money on the alternatives. Speculation mounts that Jess Glynne may be there or thereabouts, and indeed Thursday continues its gentle progress up the chart with a rise to a new peak of Number 3. It means she's now enjoyed three Top 3 hits in 2018, this hit joining her two Number One hits I'll Be There and the Rudimental track These Days on which she featured in a lead role.
There are also eyes being cast over Ava Max's Sweet But Psycho, the rapid success of which has blindsided a large number of people. It's a breezy, fun and addictive pop single of the kind that we haven't heard much of in the last few years, but it is possibly because of that novelty value that it has in the last fortnight exploded into life. The single charges up the charts to blast its way into the Top 10, sitting this week at Number 6, and it seems more or less guaranteed to go higher. As one person commented below the line on its curiously compelling video during the week, "does this mean pop music is back again"?
Moving On Up
So who does Ava Max replace in the Top 10? Rather awkwardly it is Rita Ora whose Let You Love Me suffers an ACR reverse in its tenth week on the chart and drops 5-14. It is awkward because the single should, in theory, have received a sales boost thanks to the long-awaited release of her second album Phoenix. As seasoned chart fans will know, the existence of a second Rita Ora album is something of a miracle in itself, this new collection arriving a full six years after her debut ORA first hit the shops. Her status as a chart star hasn't suffered in the intervening period, although the Number 11 debut of the new collection suggests that her ability to sell albums possibly has.
This all leaves several hits knocking on the door of the Top 10. Ruin My Life from Zara Larsson crashed into the glass ceiling at Number 11, Jonas Blue's Polaroid holds firm at 12 and pleasingly Charlie XCX and Troye Sivan climb 17-13 with 1999. This after the single ended up stuck at its previous chart position for a fortnight. Rather surprisingly the two big Greatest Showman: Reimagined singles actually fall away this week, Pink's A Million Dreams dropping 11-16 and the James Arthur/Anne-Marie collision on Rewrite The Stars dipping a place to Number 17.
We should also pay due homage to Better from Khalid which has spent all but one of its 11 weeks on sale so far inside the Top 40, all the while edging its way up a little, falling back, and then gaining a second wind. This week it reaches another brand new peak with a three-place climb to Number 15, bettering the position 16 it achieved a fortnight ago. It seems only fitting that the singer should be part of a surprisingly long-running single of his own. He's already one of the more regularly charted acts of the year thanks to his participation on the Normani duet Love Lies and Benny Blanco's former Number One single Eastside. With the latter single still hanging around, dipping to Number 31 this week, it means the American star's singles have spent a grand total of 53 chart weeks on the Top 40 so far in 2018.
At Least He's Not In Prison
Careful calculations as to precisely the best moment to release music to coincide with the holiday season meant that this week is one of those dead zones. There's a veritable feast of big new music coming your way next week, but this time around it means that new entries are thin on the ground. The highest of them is at least an instant Top 20 hit. Airforce from London rapper Digdat smashes its way into the chart at Number 20. It's a slightly more commercial remix of a track which has been circulating online for the past few months, the new production taking it slightly further from its roots than some hardcore aficionados are comfortable with. Nonetheless, it is the closest we have come so far to a genuine Drill track becoming a mainstream hit single. Although uncredited by the charts, simply because they were a late addition to the original release, Airforce features a guest appearance from Krept and Konan, this now their highest charting single since their own Freak Of The Week spent a fortnight at Number 9 in July 2015.
Little By Little
Back to the "on the move category" and George Ezra's Hold My Girl makes progress in its quest to be up there at Christmas with a 33-25 rise. Similarly Baby from Clean Bandit is finally showing signs of life, reaching the Top 30 in its fourth week on sale with a jump to Number 26. The group's much-anticipated new album is out this week which should serve to focus extra attention on the single and lift it a little further.
More from the urban side of the coin comes at Number 27. Mo Bamba from Sheck Wes is another hardcore rap single as far removed from the sound of a mainstream chart single as you could hope to get, but it has spent the past few weeks steadily climbing the streaming tables. Entering the Top 40 for the first time last week it now escapes the 31-40 twilight zone and enters the Top 30 for the first time. Given the sound of the track you could be forgiven for expecting him to be another graduate from the mean streets of Dalston, but in fact, he's a 20-year-old American performer, benefitting from the promotional muscle which comes from being signed to Interscope records.
We return to British urban sounds at Number 28 with the also climbing Advice from Cadet & Deno Driz, this the most pop-friendly of them all as it flirts effortlessly between singing and rapping (Cadet's the MC, Driz the vocalist). Cadet made his name posting a series of freestyles on social media and indeed Advice began life as a short clip posted to Instagram before being fleshed out into a full track. Advice bears the subtitle of Dele Alli, the lyrics referencing the footballer's well-known hand gesture: "don't have your eye on her like Dele Alli".
He's Looking At 10en Years
The final new entry of the week is one of the more spectacular sales and streaming tales of recent months. Kika from rapper 6ix9ine was only available for just over three days at the end of the chart survey but still manages enough numbers to register at Number 38. It is just one of a number of tracks from his debut studio album Dummy Boy which was released midweek and instantly became one of the most listened-to works of the moment. It's a burst of success which confounds expectations. The American performer remains a hugely divisive figure, his many legal problems (most stemming from a notorious video clip from 2015 which featured a 13-year-old girl in some fairly inappropriate situations) rendering him the kind of person who in any other work of life would be considered toxic and untouchable. But this is music, and in particular, music which appeals to a young generation who apparently don't care if the man behind the voice beats his lovers, chokes autograph hunters and post dubious sexual material online. And that's before you consider he's been in prison since November 18th on a conspiracy to murder charge and is not in a position to even promote the album. But all that matters is the music and so despite, or perhaps because of his notoriety, 6ix9ine has three chart singles this week.
Run Away! Run Away!
Just in case the sudden rush for everyone to throw up decorations as we hit the start of advent hadn't hammered home how close we are to Christmas, this week marks the first arrival of the year of one of the classic Christmas singles. The annual chart invasion of the golden oldies is this year subject to the newly introduced chart rules which ensure that singles more than three years old are permanently downgraded to ACR. The hope clearly is that we won't end up with a situation which saw more than half of the Top 20 dominated by vintage tracks by the end of December, all of them propelled there by huge numbers of streams. Even if they don't climb as high, they will still be around. Inevitably the first to poke its head above the horizon is All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey. Because the public has no imagination when it comes to Christmas music, they are flocking to the 1994 release like an addict taking a hit on a crack pipe. Its Number 34 entry this week marks the 12th year in a row it has been a Top 40 hit single and ACR be damned, it will almost certainly be Top 20 in fairly short order.
Will my prediction of paid-for sales dipping below a quarter of a million before the end of the year come true? We are getting closer. Music Week reports that last week just 775,000 single tracks were sold, the lowest weekly total once more since August 2005. This time last year they were still over a million. Meaning the market has shrunk by around 25% in the space of 12 months.