Pop Music’s Super Tuesday

Josh Groban represents everything that was wrong with the music industry in 2007. His Noel, a Christmas CD initially released in October, became the best-selling album of the year — moving 2.8 million copies in eleven short weeks. Sales wise, Noel beat out the soundtrack to High School Musical 2 (2.7 mill) as well as Daughtry’s Daughtry (2.3 mill).

So what’s the big deal with a Christmas album taking the top spot in a troubled year for the music industry? Just one thing: Groban didn’t sell any records until Oprah named Noel a must-have Xmas album. That means that three of the bestselling discs of 2007 were inherently tied to other media: Groban’s sales, obviously, were Oprah-induced; the soundtrack to HSM 2 was inevitably tied to its Disney TV film; and Daughtry owes the entirety of its success to American Idol, the biggest show on television.

The real moral, then, is that no one is buying music for the sake of music anymore. 2007 saw numerous big releases from even bigger artists — Kanye West (Graduation); Fall Out Boy (Infinity on High); Norah Jones (Not Too Late); 50 Cent (Curtis); Bon Jovi (Lost Highway); Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing); Maroon 5 (It Won’t Be Soon Before Long); Carrie Underwood (Carnival Ride); even Linkin Park (Minutes to Midnight). But they all lost out to a Christmas crooner because of an Oprah endorsement.

So how does the music industry recover? It learns from past mistakes. All of those CDs that I just named, with the exception of two, got their own release date in 2007. (That is, no two were released on the same day.) But the best single week for sales in ’07 aligns with the exception: the release week for Kanye’s Graduation and 50 Cent’s Curtis. In a famous media event, the two rappers went head-to-head on Sept. 11, 2007. Kanye won the battle; the music industry won the war. That week, Curtis and Graduation combined for more than 1.5 million albums sold – over half of Groban’s sales for all of 2007. So instead of making head-to-head weeks the exception, the music industry should make them the rule in ‘08. Enter February 5, 2008, or the music industry’s first Super Tuesday.

Next Tuesday, the same day as the all those presidential primaries, record companies will release three major records — the first three big pop records of 2008. The first is Jack Johnson’s Sleeping Through The Static, the second is Sheryl Crow’s Detours, and the third is Lenny Kravitz’s It’s Time For A Love Revolution.

Who’ll come out on top? Major record labels doesn’t really care, so long as loyal fans of all three artists flock to record stores the day the albums are released. But if you’re confused as to what you should or shouldn’t get, check out my Super Tuesday Buyer’s Guide after the jump.

JACK JOHNSON, SLEEPING THROUGH THE STATIC

The album: Johnson, notorious for mellow beach grooves, hinted to Rolling Stone that this would be his dark record. The title itself is a meditation on getting through tough times, but the album for the most part is more surfer dude than suicidal. Rolling Stone has also reviewed the disc; it scores a mediocre three stars.

You’ll Like It If: You’re stoned. Johnson’s music has always been kosher to the California crowd, but now more than ever. Sleeping packs the stoner one-two: chilled-out chord changes and “deep” lyrics. Now Jack’s music has lyrical substance, so it’s perfect when you’ve got, well, some kind of substance.

Lead Single: “If I Had Eyes.” Johnson has an impressive track record with silly first singles; you know “Flake,” “Bubble Toes,” “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” and even “Upside Down” — which pushed the Curious George soundtrack to the top Billboard spot back in 2006. But “If I Had Eyes” is a serious slice of pop, and as a result it is seriously dive-bombing on the charts.

Where It Stands: Sleeping is Number 12 on iTunes’ Top Albums, available as a pre-order.

SHERYL CROW, DETOURS

The album: Crow told Rolling Stone that she “couldn’t write fast enough” after adopting her first son Wyatt in 2007. She also divorced Lance Armstrong in ’06, making much of Detours a break-up record. This is her first disc since 2005’s Wildflower — a commercial and critical disaster that broke Crow’s four-album streak of successful lead singles (“All I Wanna Do,” “If It Makes You Happy,” “My Favorite Mistake” and “Soak up the Sun”). She hopes Detours is a return to form; I don’t expect it to be.

You’ll Like It If: You’re antiwar. Detours is one part feminist, one part liberal; it boasts anti-Karl Rove songs like “Now That You’re Gone.”

Lead Single: “Love Is Free.” With staccato guitar chords, hand-claps and junky lyrics, this song sounds just like, umm, Jack Johnson. It’s going nowhere on the charts, unable to crack even the iTunes Top 100.

Where It Stands: Detours is Number 62 on iTunes’ Top Albums.

LENNY KRAVITZ, IT’S TIME FOR A LOVE REVOLUTION

The album: Not unlike Crow’s Detours, Kravitz’ Revolution is a war record. He expresses, among other things, his hate for Iraq and his love for Barack. Rolling Stone has reviewed the record — not unlike Johnson’s Sleeping, Revolution takes three stars. Kravitz has yet to miss the mainstream with any of his records; even 2004’s Baptism, a critically-panned introspective disc, caught fire when “Lady” was used in a Gap ad. Revolution might break that streak.

You’ll Like It If: The only other album you own is Nickelback. Seriously. Before Kravitz got popular, he wrote funky pop songs with inventive lyrics (check out “Cab Driver”). Then “Fly Away” launched him to mega-stardom, and we started to see the first signs of formula. Now he’s rewriting his own crappy back catalogue, as opposed to before – when he used to rewrite other artists’ best work.

Lead Single: “Bring It On.” Kravitz’s isn’t known for brilliance in lyrics (“Once you dig in/You’ll find it comin’ out the other side). But “Bring It On” is a new low. The song has no hook, no catchy riff, and no memorable words.

Where It Stands: Revolution is Number 49 on iTunes’ Top Albums.

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5 Responses to Pop Music’s Super Tuesday

  1. George Purcell says:

    Jack Johnson’s Sleeping Through the Static (pre-order) is Number 7.

    Detours (pre-order) is Number 40 right now. Past week it was number 12. Tomorrow… i don’t know, i’m not a whiz! Anyway, it’s called sinusoidal factor 😉

    Love is Free is Number 37 (itunes pop)

  2. Bryan says:

    Jon, I’m a bit confused, you bring this up to be Super Tuesday, as if it’s a big day for the industry, but the albums (per your description) sound like big names more than big music. Is this an important day at all, really?

    And you mention the success of the 50 Cent – Kanye media fight … are you proposing Jack Johnson and Sheryl Crow start attacking each other?

  3. Jon says:

    George, good call. My numbers were from yesterday…Johnson has already moved up to #5 in the pre-orders as of 2 pm today.

    And as for “Love is Free,” I was talking about the general iTunes 100, where it’s nowhere to be found.

    And Bry, good call(s) as well. Although the first quarter of any year is typically low on new releases, this year is surprisingly bland; outside of these three albums, there’s really nothing big until Panic at the Disco’s new CD on 3/25. So if there’s going to be any big biz in the music industry before Spring, it’s gonna be this Tuesday, thus Super Tuesday. (The current Billboard chart-toppers are selling around 60,000 per week, which is abysmally low…Kanye sold 950,000 in one week with last year’s “Graduation.”) That said, these albums are looking relatively mediocre and none of the three artists have huge singles to accompany the release date.

    It’s kind of like how everyone will get psyched on Tuesday for the prez primaries and then Wednesday they’ll all go…”McCain? Really? We picked John McCain?” Tuesday could and should have been big for the music industry, but the artists just aren’t putting out big lead singles.

    So yes, big names more so than big music.

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