We are now just about six months into the new chart regime and at some point, it will be appropriate to do a short half term report and reflect on what has changed, what has improved and what has frustratingly remained the same. A full analysis will have to wait until I have a little more time on my hands but for this week at least let's see what conclusions can be drawn from the behaviour of current chart hits.
At the top of the singles chart - no change yet again. Rihanna and Jay-Z's chart performance now verges on the spectacular as Umbrella lands itself a sixth week at Number One, the longest running Number One hit since Crazy had a nine week run back in 2006. The mere fact that it now takes its place as one of the most consistent top-selling singles ever will cause a few heads to be scratched, it is after all hardly the greatest single of its genre ever made, but simplicity of the ditty and the way it has one of those choruses that you can't help but sing along to (once you have figured out the lyrics) makes it one of those rare hit singles that is very hard to hate, even if you don't care for it much. Surely that is the core part of its appeal.
The very fact that Umbrella still reigns supreme means that one very significant thing hasn't happened. According to the script, Lee Mead was at this point supposed to have capitalised on the huge wave of popular support that his "Any Dream Will Do" victory had gifted him to blow away the competition and sell over six figures inside a week of his rendition of the song from 'Joseph'. Instead, he is "only" a Number 2, perhaps an inevitable outcome after the download issue of the track only made the Top 20 a week ago.
This is a far deeper problem than you might realise. In order to kick start the casual music purchasing market and get masses of people (rather than just regular music fans) back into the habit of buying music on a weekly basis, the industry needs a major crossover smash hit which reaches out to a section of the market who ordinarily wouldn't buy a single. It was this market which helped sales to soar to dream levels in the late 90s and which stuck around for a good five years after that. The problem is currently that the industry's favourite singles media - the download - still isn't quite as accessible as it should be. One day we will be able to "buy" a track which will sit somewhere centrally and which we can play at will on our portable players, our kitchen radio and our living room hi-fi but for the moment the digital market remains by and large in the hands of the technically aware. The people who would have been expected to snap up the Lee Mead single are those who in years gone past would have wandered past a rack of them in Asda. With sales of CD singles bottoming out, those supermarkets which still stock them have relegated them to a small rack next to the cigarette kiosk. Chances of widespread consumer penetration are diminishing fast.
The problem isn't confined to this country either. Secure in the knowledge that debut singles from "American Idol" winners always top the US charts, this year the 19 company elected not to make the releases from the two finalists available physically but unleashed them as downloads instead. The result was a half-hearted Top 20 entry for both Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks with the singles vanishing from the chart as quickly as they had come. Maybe the quality of the winners wasn't up to much, or just maybe the television magic that helped Will and Gareth sell a million copies inside a week on these shores has now stopped working. Five years ago Lee Mead would have sold half a million copies of Any Dream Will Do the moment it was released. The fact that he can't anymore, surely indicates that the music industry needs a new trick to create the mainstream superstar (or even superhit) which will spark things back to life again.
The only other new arrival to the Top 10 this week is the chart's biggest climber, Smokers Outside Hospital Doors from The Editors. The first single from their forthcoming second album, the track was released to download a week ago and landed at Number 30 on last weeks chart. The clearly more collectable physical release has now lifted the single into the Top 10 to ensure it becomes the biggest hit single to date for the Birmingham indie band, beating out 'Munich' which was a Number 10 hit in January 2006. One strange consequence of the new rules introduced in January is that labels are still nervous about allowing totally new singles to grow organically and as the Editors and the White Stripes have proved in recent weeks, the "old" tactic of download release one week before physical release still seems to be the only path they know how to follow.
On the other hand, the Chemical Brothers did things slightly differently, allowing Do It Again to appear online a full fortnight before it became available physically. Having sold consistently over those two weeks (moving 25-23) the single now takes a leap and arrives at Number 12 to become their 14th Top 20 hit and the biggest since Galvanize went Top 3 in January 2005. Maybe it is a bad example as the Chemicals aren't exactly a mainstream act despite their decade-long run of hits, but as a download, their single didn't "grow", it just sort of hovered.
At the lower end of the Top 20, we come across a small run of new hits which all use slightly different marketing tactics. Leading the charge as the highest new chart entry of the week at Number 16 is Worried About Ray by The Hoosiers. It is the debut single from the three piece band who are currently flagged up as a major priority by their label and who on the strength of this enormously appealing guitars n' drums single are well worth the attention. Their music is a delightful fusion that almost defies categorisation, Worried About Ray coming across like the Arctics performing a Santana track with Chris Martin on lead vocals. As for their release tactic, they have boldly gone for the 1+1 release pattern, the single now a Top 20 hit on downloads alone and inevitably set to go Top 10 when the CD arrives in the shops this week.
Next in the queue at Number 17 are Take That who began the year as the poster children for the new download era after their single Shine made a good old fashioned leisurely climb up the chart as a download-only album track. It moved 83-30-17-11-10 before finally leaping to Number One when it was released for real. The effect of this was really only spoiled by the sad truth that no single since has behaved that way which made it something of an anomaly rather than the start of a refreshing new trend. There is sadly no such fairytale for I'd Wait For Life, the third single from their comeback album Beautiful World. As an album cut it didn't really have a formal release date as such but it had only registered at the 172nd best selling single by the time the chart came out last week. This leap to Number 17 is as a result of die-hard collectors snapping up the CD single but it also means the single is now going to spoil a near flawless run of Top 3 hits and will instead rank as one of their lowest charting hits ever. The atypically slow start to their fame meant they actually had their fair share of flop releases but it now seems inevitable that I'd Wait For Life will become their first single to miss the Top 10 and indeed their lowest charting hit since their third single Once You've Tasted Love made Number 47 way back in February 1992.
At Number 18 there appears a single which has been released as a very bold move. You will search the shops in vain for Muse's Map Of The Problematique. Although taken from the Black Holes And Revelations album it has been well advertised that this is a download-only single, promoted on the back of their two Wembley Stadium dates earlier this month. If nothing else it demonstrates the amazing loyalty of their fans, being as it is the fourth single to be taken from an album that appeared online over a year ago and with nothing more than a single remix made available as part of the single package to make it appeal to collectors. Nonetheless, it gives them a Top 20 hit and even beats out the Number 21 peak of their last single Invincible which was available physically. Despite the chart rules allowing for it and despite bold claims that the CD single is dead as a concept, there have been relatively few download only hits. Muse are the first act to try the stunt, the others having all come from female soloists such as Christina Aguilera, Pink and Nelly Furtado. To date Nelly's is the biggest download only hit, having peaked at Number 10.
It is funny but it appears to be the American superstars who have the knack of growing hit singles slowly. The next to manage it will be Justin Timberlake whose latest single release will be Lovestoned, an edited version of the seven-minute track which appears on the Futuresex/Lovesounds album. Not due for release until July 2nd it now enters the Top 40 at Number 21 having already moved 139-63 in the past couple of weeks as airplay for the single started to build. He will be joined in the shops on that date by Avril Lavigne's When You're Gone which has now crept 124-32-23. With the single being hailed as one of her best ever I think we should keep an open mind about the possibility of a second slow-burning Number One hit.
Given that we mentioned him earlier as one of the acts at the start of the decade who sold millions of singles off the back of a TV show, it seems almost cruel to refer to Gareth Gates in less than stellar terms, but sadly this is the situation this week. Following up the Number 14 hit Changes, Gareth returns to the chart with Angel On My Shoulder which languished at the bottom end of the Top 200 on download sales last week and now misses the Top 20 even when physically released. You don't need me to tell you it is his smallest ever hit and makes you question whether he will ever have another.
Elsewhere new physical releases from Air Traffic (Number 30), Paramore (Number 31), Ash (Number 32) and Simon Webbe (Number 36) fail to make the grade but there are better prospects for some future releases which have crept into the Top 40 on download sales. Among them, Teenagers from My Chemical Romance (Number 35 and out on July 9th) and Big Girls Don't Cry from Fergie which is at Number 37 but does not hit the shops until July 16th. Our previous tip for big things, It's Not Over Yet from the Klaxons is limping along rather and has moved 28-34-33 since it first appeared on the Top 40. The physical single is in the shops as we speak but its hoped for download momentum simply hasn't materialised [next week, next week. Just relax].