Still Waters Run Deep
This week's Official UK Singles chart doesn't quite have the level of familiarity gifted to the ones of the past few weeks, but that doesn't mean there isn't still an air of calm at the top end. This week it is "just" the Top 4 which remain locked in place, as a result gifting Closer by Chainsmokers featuring Halsey a third week at Number One. Total combined sales of the single dip slightly this week but it remains top of both the sales and streaming tables, gifting it a 30,000 chart sale lead over its nearest competitor to comfortably remain at the top of the market.
This still water can be entirely attibuted to the static nature of the streaming market, the entire Top 8 on that particular chart remaining the same as they were last week. I'm sure I must have said it a hundred times, but it never stops being necessary to point out. Popular music culture and the music business itself is finally being dramatically exposed to a truth that people in the broadcasting world have been aware of for years. The subset of music fans constantly in search of the new, the exciting and the unfamiliar and whose habits previously defined the way the singles market behaved are actually a tiny subset of the public as a whole. Everyone else is startling conservative in their approach, seeking out only the comfortable and the familiar. And that is why the streaming tables by and large show the same music week in week out, because that is what people turn to by default. The music industry's challenge if it wishes to keep innovating and evolving is to work out new ways to nudge the market along. Simply releasing new product and allowing the minority to dictate the agenda is no longer enough.
At the very least we have much movement from positions 5 onwards although that doesn't include One Dance by Drake which remains locked in place at Number 9 for a second straight week. The former epic Number One single this week spends its 23rd week in the Top 10, in the process breaking the all-time record of 22 weeks set just earlier this year by Justin Bieber's What Do U Mean.
Don't Need No Dollar Bills
Do you want to know how to break into the Top 10 end of the singles chart? Just be incredibly good and incredibly popular, that is all. Such is the fate of Australian star Sia, owner of what is already one of the biggest hits of the year to date thanks to Cheap Thrills which peaked at Number 2 for four straight weeks in April - the final three of which just happened to coincide with the start of One Dance's run at the top of the charts. Which was simply incredibly bad luck. Having apparently exhausted the hit potential of her "songs rejected by other people" album This Is Acting, the Australian singer has now moved on to the promotion of what will be her upcoming 8th album We Are Your Children. Released as a midweek surprise last week its lead single The Greatest made its chart bow at Number 49. Now with a full week of sales and streams behind it the Kendrick Lamar-featuring track soars to Number 5, reaching the Top 10 of both sales and streams charts in the process and I guess blowing out of the water the notion that no singles are able to make an immediate chart impact any more. Expect much more from this one, all that remains really is to wonder out loud if the video for the song has Maddy Ziegler dancing in it? Well of course it does.
Also making pleasing progress into the Top 10 is Ariana Grande's Side To Side which jumps 24-8 and in the process gifts guest star Nicki Minaj her 10th Top 10 single. Two new Top 10 hits in a week feels like an embarrassment of riches given events of the past few months. Fascinating to note though that neither of them is what was notionally the biggest deal of the week in pop music.
Stefani Germanotta has spent the whole of the decade so far being a Very Big Deal. Right from her debut in 2009 she has been a major star, guaranteeing large swathes of headlines and with impressive global sales for her music. A powerful and independently-minded woman cast from the mould of her idol Madonna, she is a true icon in an age desperately in need of one.
Which is why the prospect of a brand new single, her first new work in three years, was met with such appreciation and hype. The release of Perfect Illusion was accompanied by multiple public appearances, some sterling promotional work and the kind of cooing appreciation we have come to expect for anything she chooses to holler. The single made an immediate impact, flying to the top of the iTunes table in short order and apparently fulfilling its destiny as the biggest of big deals. Except that where once upon a time the top of the list was where it would be expected to remain, we are now in a very different age. The days of Just Dance and Poker Face were, lest we forget, almost eight years ago. That's a lifetime in pop music. And a lifetime in which the pop music and the way people interact with it has changed forever. Whilst the remaining Little Monsters all queued up in their virtual stores to get their Lady Gaga fix, once they had had their fill there weren't all that many people left to replace them. Perfect Illusion was a two-day wonder on the sales charts, if that, and its streams - well the less said about those the better. Lady Gaga's big chart return may well have been the fifth biggest seller of the week but it was 'only' the 28th most streamed and indeed had fallen short of Spotify's own Top 40 chart by close of play Thursday. Combined this is enough to give her a debut at Number 12 - easily higher up the charts than many new releases manage these days but by her own lofty standards this is something of a comedown.
There is naturally no need to write this off. If there is one thing Lady Gaga singles do it is linger far longer than the initial fuss suggests they will, and as I am so fond of saying elsewhere, we must get out of the "Week 1" mindset which has dominated chart analysis for the past two decades. Week 6 or even deeper is what you work towards, however hard this may sometimes be. Wait until the video appears at least.
Nonetheless it is sobering to note that the last single not featuring Justin Bieber to debut inside the Top 10 was Clean Bandit's Tears back in June. If Lady Gaga of all people cannot manage this then who on earth can?
The Impossible Comeback
Once upon a time James Arthur had everything on a plate. The enormously popular winner of the 2012 series of X Factor, his coronation single cover of Stontelle's Impossible had taken its due turn at the top of the charts and had sold well over a million copies, second only to Alexandra Burke's Hallelujah as the biggest selling X Factor winner's release ever. His debut album followed at the end of 2013, bringing with it Number 2 smash hit You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You. However its promotion was tinged with controversy as the singer's propensity for becoming involved in social media spats and his use of some rather incorrect phraseology in online compositions. On more than one occasion he was rushed out of public view to deal with "exhaustion" as the euphemistic PR spin always had it. Pretty soon the background noise of James Arthur's personal failings was drowning out his undeniable talent. He was dropped from his Syco deal in 2014 in what was surely a first not for economic or creative reasons but simply because he himself was such a massive weapon.
All credit to the star however, he did not go gently into the good night. He regrouped, dealt with the personal issues that were bringing him down and quite miraculously landed himself a brand new record deal with Columbia Records in Germany (proving that if ever you need to start with a clean slate you do it in a completely different country). The first fruits of that deal were revealed last week with the release of his brand new single Say You Won't Let Go. The most surprising thing of all? It is good. Really, really very good. And people noticed. Slowly but steadily over the course of the week the single grew in stature, eventually eclipsing even the Lady Gaga single in sales and public attention. A lack of streams hurt the single badly - it ended the week as the third biggest seller but with few plays to its name has to be content with a Number 25 entry overall.
Nonetheless this story has many more chapters to unfold. The track is as I write still selling by the shedload, pointing to a large chart leap this time next week. As the weekend dawned his old mentors popped up again in support, Syco swooping in to land a deal to distribute his new album when it arrives, bringing his career full circle and affording him the kind of redemption which seemed, well, impossible just two years ago.
We Rise And Fall
The appearance of two brand new singles each with their own stories to tell risks eclipsing what might otherwise be the more surprising chart story of the week. Remember the large number of potential new hits peppering the lower end of the Top 40 chart last week? None of them make what might have been the expected progress. Singles from Zara Larsson, Digital Farm Animals and Matoma all settle back rather than making chart progress. Now I stress that this means nothing for now, some of the year's biggest hits have come from singles which spent the first part of their chart life hovering around the basement end of the countdown. If nothing else it shows that these still waters run very deep indeed.
Older Than We Are
As we approach the end of the year the market for new albums starts to hot up, evidence of that comes from the top end of this week's Official UK Albums chart as the Top 4 albums are all new arrivals. Of these only one is from an act who might be considered temporary, Bastille landing their second straight Number One album with Wild World. Below are Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with Skeleton Tree, taking over from 2013 release Push The Sky as his highest charting release ever.
Coinciding with the theatrical release of the Ron Howard documentary film "The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years", the group themselves make an appearance at Number 3 with Live At The Hollywood Bowl. The recording of their 1967 concert has already been turned into a hit album, the resultant release topping the charts in 1977. This new cut is an expanded edit of the concert making it surely the only live recording ever to have been released twice in two different forms.
Completing the clean sweep of the Top 4 is Meat Loaf's Braver Than We Are, a much celebrated return to the songs of Jim Steinman and as a result an album which continues his impressive run of Top 10 albums, every one of his studio albums since 1993's Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell reaching the Top 10 with ease. The new album is a tricky listen however, the advancing years and resultant deterioration of his vocal powers meaning that many of the songs are beyond him. In this listener's view anyway.
It seemed wrong to give this albums recap its usual sarcastic subheading - every one of the Top 4 albums this week sold considerably more than last week's Number One from Ward Thomas which duly dips to Number 5.