Chart Watch: Garth's Comeback Stalls

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Garth Brooks’s first album of new music in 13 years is on track to enter The Billboard 200 next week at a humbling #4. Unless it moves up in a subsequent week (which is rare—albums generally peak in their opening weeks), Man Against Machine will become Brooks’s lowest-charting regular studio album since his eponymous debut album. That album was released in April 1989 and finally peaked at #13 in February 1992.

Man Against Machine will probably sell about 120K copies in its first week. Brooks’s last album of new music, Scarecrow, started with sales of 466K in November 2001.

Look for Taylor Swift’s 1989 to hold on to the #1 spot for the third straight week, with sales of about 300K. Foo FightersSonic Highways will probably debut at #2 (185K). Pink Floyd’s The Endless River is on track to open at #3 (155K).

Brooks’s decision not to put his album on iTunes may have hurt its chart position. The album is only downloadable via the Brooks-owned-and-operated Ghost Tunes. Digital was not yet a factor when Brooks released his last album of new music.

Brooks’s earthbound first-week sales projection is the latest indication of the difficulty faced by veteran artists. Fans will pay to see veteran artists in concert and even spring for merchandise and concert program books, but they won’t (in great numbers) buy their new music. Another factor: Some of Brooks’s long-time fans may not even be aware that he has a new album out.

Swift titled her album 1989 because that’s her birth year. But it’s also the year that Brooks released his first studio album. There’s no question that Brooks paved the way for Swift. His Ropin’ The Wind in 1991 was the first country album to debut at #1. (Swift has equaled the feat four times, as she has transitioned from country to pop). His Double Live in 1998 was the first country album to sell 1 million copies in a week. (The second was Swift’s Speak Now in 2010.)

Like Swift, Brooks made a pop album that had so little country content that it wasn’t charted on Top Country Albums. But Brooks’s album, Garth Brooks In…The Life Of Chris Gaines, wasn’t nearly as successful as 1989. The widely-mocked album stalled at #2 on The Billboard 200 in October 1999. It did, however, yield Brooks’s only top 10 hit on the Hot 100, “Lost In You.”

Man Against Machine is Brooks’s ninth regular studio album. “Regular studio albums” are what you might call “no excuses” albums. Greatest hits albums, live albums, Christmas albums, soundtracks, box sets and oddities (such as the Chris Gaines one-off) may or may not succeed. If they fall short, you can’t really hold them against the act. But if a regular studio album misses, there are no excuses.

Brooks reached #1 with five of his nine regular studio albums: Ropin’ The Wind, The Chase, In Pieces, Sevens and Scarecrow. He has also reached #1 with a greatest hits set, The Hits; a live album, Double Live; and two box sets, The Limited Series and Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades Of Influences. Brooks’ grand total of nine #1 albums is more than any other country artist in history. Kenny Chesney is in second place with seven.

Brooks will have a consolation prize on next week’s chart: Man Against Machine is set to enter Top Country Albums at #1, displacing Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Shoes. It will be His 14th #1. Brooks has fallen short of the top spot on the country chart with just one regular studio album—his first, which spent eight weeks at #2.

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