Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Following Up on Arcade Fire's Album Sales

On Sunday, I posted a long piece praising Arcade Fire's new album, The Suburbs, while pontificating on whether they really seem destined--at least in the short term--for rock 'n' roll megastardom in the realm of U2, Radiohead, Coldplay and other groups to whom they've been compared.

I pointed out that hitting #1 on the Billboard charts in the first week out for their third album was an impressive feat for an indie band, but that the 156,000 copies sold was not all that earth-shattering for a record that was accompanied by lots of hype, press, rave reviews, a YouTube streaming event, a Lollapalooza headlining gig and deep discounts ($3.99 for an Amazon download, now upped to $7.99). And the first-week sales figures were well shy of those for comparable albums in the career progression of proven rock superstars like Radiohead and Coldplay.

In case, like me, you were curious how the album would do in its second week, Billboard reports that it fell to #2 on the charts while experiencing a precipitous drop in volume, selling 52,000 copies, or 1/3 of its first week tally. And in doing so, it saw a real music superstar [please] stand up, as Eminem's Recovery album recovered the #1 spot by selling 133,000 albums.

I haven't heard Recovery and have never been a big Eminem fan, but at a time when album sales are in steep decline and seemingly 8-10 years beyond his peak buzz, his success is really quite impressive. Yes, he's been a big star for quite awhile, but in just 8 weeks Recovery has sold 2.1 million copies, opening with 741,000 in the first week, never selling less than 100,000 in any week and topping the charts for 6 of the weeks.

I am also a bit surprised that in announcing a new string of U.S. dates (though unfortunately not one back through Chicago, as I'm still waiting to seem them live), Arcade Fire avoided basketball arenas in markets like St. Paul and especially Los Angeles. After selling out two dates at Madison Square Garden, I would have to imagine they could fill the Staples Center, or at least the L.A. Forum, but either they really aren't all that huge yet or they're trying to play down their popularity and stay more true to their roots. Or perhaps most likely, a little bit of both.

Either way, The Suburbs will really have to extend its sales sprawl around Christmas, and well beyond, to ever hope to reach the neighborhood of total sales achieved by the best-selling albums of previous alt-rock superstars.

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