'Old Wave' Rockers Revitalize Record Sales

Published May 15, 2006

| NYPost.com

News last week that Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — two of rock's most trend-setting bands — enjoyed stellar opening week sales numbers showed the genre can still pack a powerful retail punch.

In fact, the resurgence had its beginnings two weeks ago, when rock bands held the No. 1 and 2 positions on the Billboard Top 200 chart - Pearl Jam was No. 2 and Tool, a progressive rock band, scored the top spot.

When final sales numbers are tallied this week, the Chili Peppers' new album, "Stadium Arcadium," will be at an all-time first-week high, good enough for the first or second Billboard spot, according to Geoff Mayfield, the magazine's director of chart research.

"It's pretty remarkable that this deep into their career, the [Chili Peppers] are able to score their biggest sales week ever," he said.

Based on figures reported by retail chains during its first few days on sale, projections are for "Stadium Arcadium," the Chili Peppers' ninth studio album, to sell roughly 400,000 copies - easily ranking as the group's best first-week sales output ever.

The tally is even more impressive considering that "Stadium Arcadium" is a double album released in a pick-and-choose, single-song retail music climate.

Even Peter Standish, the senior vice president at Warner Bros. Records who marketed the album, was surprised by the projections. "To be honest, it'd be unbelievable, and I'd be happy if they only end up selling 300,000 copies," he said.

First-week sales of Pearl Jam's self-titled eighth studio album tallied 280,000, good enough to make it the No. 2 album last week - and the Seattle band's best debut week since 1998, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Indeed, after only one week in release, Pearl Jam's latest album - its first for new label J Records - is more than halfway to matching the entire sales output of its previous album, "Riot Act." Pearl Jam hasn't had a studio album go platinum since "No Code" was released in 1996.

"It's no secret that [Pearl Jam's] sales had slowed during their last few releases," said J Records' Tom Corson. "But this is the kind of record that's right for the current marketplace. It is an aggressive, highly charged album full of opinions about the state of the world, and the record-buying audience is responding to that."

Not to mention the band having "a desire to do some promotion behind this record," Corson said. (After Pearl Jam's first three albums sold a combined 20 million copies, the band purposely decided to stop making videos and actively promoting albums to lower their profile.)

In fact, though the Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam reside at different labels, the marketing campaigns for both albums, each released four years after the respective bands' previous efforts, were strikingly similar. The initial singles - "World Wide Suicide" for Pearl Jam and "Dani California" for the Chili Peppers - were first made available exclusively on the Internet. Both ended up hitting No. 1 on Billboard's "Hot Modern Rock Tracks" list.

The bands also appeared on back-to-back episodes of "Saturday Night Live" and played not-so-secret shows at Irving Plaza in New York within days of one another. Commercials ran prominently on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" ahead of both releases, an especially effective measure for Pearl Jam, whose anti-Bush howls by frontman Eddie Vedder found a ready-made audience in Stewart's unabashedly liberal fans.

That the Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, with 40 years and 17 studio albums between them, have such parallels in their career trajectories is no surprise. The two bands have been intimately tied since their inception - former Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons introduced Vedder to his future Pearl Jam bandmates.

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