I'm in the mood to do something perverse this week, so let's start with the one aspect of the British music charts I keep insisting mean nothing any more. But on weeks like this is hard to ignore. The race to get product into the shops for the end of the year means another of those frantic weeks for new album releases, the end result being a chart which is almost entirely populated by new entries at the top end. Eight of this week's Top 10 albums are new, with two more occupying berths lower down inside the Top 20. The overall winners of this race are Green Day whose 12th album Revolution Radio becomes their third Number One album and their first to hit the top since Twentieth Century Breakdown back in 2009. But that's not actually the most relevant point.
Just check out the acts who make up these new entries. Green Day. Barry Gibb. Alter Bridge. Kaiser Chiefs. OneRepublic. Seasick Steve. Norah Jones. Feeder. Literally just one of those acts has managed a Top 40 hit in the run up to the release of these collections, and OneRepublic can hardly claim the biggest hit of their career with the Number 29 peak of Wherever I Go.
So where are the "contemporary" pop acts and who is consuming their albums. Well it was pointed out to me in the week that a very interesting exercise is to click on a link on Officialcharts.com that most people overlook. The Streaming Albums table.
This week the most streamed albums are from Drake, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Craig David, Solange and Kanye West. Big name mainstream stars (and Solange). And ith hit singles to their name.
It is not hard to work out what is happening here. The streamers, the new batch of music consumers, have their favourites and they are indeed consuming their album tracks in numbers. The problem is those numbers are at present, even despite the parlous state of the purchased physical and digital market, barely a dip in the ocean of the overall albums universe. That's partially down to the way streams are calculated and how many you need to correspond to "one album" but also a reflection of the numbers involved. The albums chart skews to the old way of doing things - leaving it to be dominated by those music buyers similarly wedded to the "old way" of consuming music.
Compare that to the singles chart, which as I am forever noting, is now dominated by the ebb and flow and frequently the stillwaters of the streaming tables. Sales are a factor but they are minority one, to the detriment of those legacy acts from the purchased era who are discovering that this just isn't enough to give them the kind of chart exposure they were used to in the past.
Should Have Brought You Flowers
I'll get on to those who are suffering from the new world order in a moment. First of all it is important to celebrate those still achieving great things on the Official UK Singles chart. Naturally that begins with James Arthur who remains comfortable at the top of the pile as Say You Won't Let Go spends a third week at Number One. Once more he tops both tables, Number One in sales and streams with over 50,000 downloads to his name and 5.61m plays. That total of 105,603 is more than any Number One single since the early days of Drake's summer-long stint.
One has to presume his most immediate challenge will come from the man whose brand new single becomes only the 12th single to enter the charts inside the Top 10 so far this year. In theory there was nothing to stop Bruno Mars falling into the streaming gap like so many of his musical contemporaries. He's been a star since his 2010 debut after all and his last solo hits were well over three years ago. A lifetime in pop terms in any circumstances, but with the whole shape of the music market having changed forever in the meantime it might as well be a lifetime ago.
Yet as much as Lady Gaga (to give one example) has suffered, the man from Hawaii has thrived. His first chart single since his guest appearance on Mark Ronson's Uptown Funk at the end of 2014, 24K Magic storms the singles chart at Number 9 (Sales: 4, Streams: 17), making it his tenth Top 10 single. The track itself is what I guess we now have to regard as classic Mars. The fact that once again it has its feet planted firmly in the early 1980s - reminiscent of both George Benson, Rick James, Herbie Hancock and the Gap Band - is perhaps a little disappointing. That's not much of a progression from either Uptown Funk or indeed the whole of his last album but as Justin Timberlake demonstrated earlier this year, a retro sound delivered with charm and energy plays well globally. And I repeat, it has gone straight into the Top 10 here.
But that's Week 1. And we judge you these days on where you are in Week 6 and beyond Bruno. Here's hoping you stay in the right place and fight your way up all those curated playlists.
Speaking Of Week 2
Props where they are due to Niall Horan who last week also entered the charts at Number 9 and whom I also approached with some suspicion wondering just what would happen now the dedicated OneDirectioners had all taken their fill of the latest solo track from one of their idols. This Town dips this week, that was to be expected, but only as far as Number 12. Streams saved the track here, it holds its own moving 16-15 on that chart, offsetting a 3-12 drop in its sales.
Up And Up
Credit as well to those singles tracking upward in the manner that all true hits do these days. We've a three place rise for Zara Larsson's Ain't My Fault at 13, Starving from Hailee Steinfeld, Grey and Zedd rises 11 places to Numbner 17 whilst the dreamy Sexual from Neiked is also making solid progress, finally catching fire after three months on release and making the Top 30 for the first time with a ten place rise to Number 24.
Meanwhile everyone is still getting very excited at the snippets slowly appearing to tease the new Emeli Sande album. Its lead single Hurts sounds more magnificent every time you hear it and after dipping to Number 27 last week it rebounds five places to equal its present chart peak of Number 22 (Sales: 9, Streams 44) - hitting that position for the third time in the four weeks it has been around. Yes, it is still hovering in mid table but she is one act with whom it is possible to play the long game. Which given her lowly place on the streaming table is probably just as well. And we should once more acknowledge that Sande too is a legacy act, her stardom based on what she achieved a full four years ago. There is no reason why she should appeal in large numbers to the new streaming market, but it is clearly going to take some work.
A Million Fails
Once again this week the lower end of the UK Singles chart throws up appearances from acts whom one would generally expect to be doing better. Much much better. It almost feels like I'm baiting trolls by laying into Gaga week in week out. I'm truly not, but it is hard not to marvel at the way her latest attempts to remain relevant are misfiring. Her last single Perfect Illusion was very much the definition of a one week wonder, its chart life running 12-44-51-71-78 where it rests this week. That might not be an issue, given that this week she dropped another brand new track in the shape of the teaser track Million Reasons. Now yes, it is only an instant grat track and thus most of its 'sales' have gone on pre-sale purchases of parent album Joanne and thus not counted for the singles chart. Its laid back gospel tones make it very much a statement of intent and a way of saying "look how much I've grown" to those debating whether to splash out on the new album when it arrives. But it still only charts at Number 48 (Sales: 19, Streams: 83) for now. And that's not where we expect Gaga tracks to land is it?
Olly Mur's last single You Don't Know Love was a constant reference point for this column over the summer, if only for the way it demonstrated how much work could go into squeezing a respectable chart position out of a man whose status as a mainstream entertainer meant he was just too big to fail. Endless promotional effort and the odd discounted week on iTunes hauled the single up to a peak of Number 15 but despite an extended Top 20 run thereafter it was never going to progress any further. So this week we move on to the follow-up, a cheery ditty entitled Grow Up and which spends Week 1 at Number 52 (Sales: 18, Streams: nowhere). Or if you prefer 17 places below the chart position of its still-charting predecessor. Technically the single is an instant grat for the album like the Gaga single above. But it also has a video and is clearly being pitched as a proper single release too. This is yet another Olly track which I'm going to watch with interest. I mean it is damn good, Olly Murs doesn't make bad records. Never has. Theoretically he doesn't need a second hit single to ensure new album 24 Hrs will recoup its costs when released on November 11th. But if this one is allowed to wither and die, is this a tacit admission that Olly has stopped being a mainstream pop star and is now the safe middle of the road chap whose work you can give to your mum as a gift?
Wasted Away In Dumperville
Having brought up the topic last week, I have to pay it off here to finish this week. Robbie Williams did everything a returning star is supposed to do to get people to listen to his new music. From making radio appearances to telling exotic handjob stories on Graham Norton a couple of weeks ago. That wasn't enough to prevent new single Party Like A Russian entering no higher than Number 68 last week. But to judge it there would be to remain in a Week 1 mindset and we have to move on from that.
So here we are in Week 2. Robbie is nowhere to be seen in the Top 100. Then again neither are Busted, but did anyone really expect anything different?
Finally, streams of singles this week accounted for 84.88% of the market, a brand new record. This time last year they were 74.32%, and in October 2014 just 53.44%.