- Call Off The Search — Katie Melua
- Feels Like Home — Norah Jones
- The Jukebox Years — Daniel O'Donnell
- Twentysomething — Jamie Cullum
- Just For You — Lionel Richie -Mercury
- Only You — Harry Connick Jr
- His Greatest Love Songs — Engelbert Humperdinck
- Thank You — Jamelia
- When It Falls — Zero 7
- Friday's Child — Will Young
- Ultimate Manilow Barry Manilow
Is this it? Is this what 2004 holds for the music industry? Endless iterations of Terry Wogan-approved jazz-lite singers and repackaged Greatest Hits collections, forming a Julia set of mediocrity? With the advent of the 50-Quid Man, it certainly looks that way (in case you were hoping for solace from the rest of the chart, I must point out that Barry Manilow is number eleven. There's no good news to be found, I'm afraid).
Surely, though, things have always been this way? Well, not really. Here's the chart from ten years ago, before the big Britpop explosion, during a time when the halcyon sales of the 1980s and 1970s were a distant memory:
- Music Box — Mariah Carey
- The Cross Of Changes — Enigma
- Debut — Bjork
- Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? — The Cranberries
- So Close — Dina Carroll
- Bat Out Of Hell 2: Back Into Hell — Meatloaf
- Elegant Slumming — M People
- Tiger Bay — Saint Etienne
- Ten Summoner's Tales — Sting
- Under The Pink — Tori Amos
You can see the difference instantly; rock, dance, MOR, indie, and the goth audience all share the honours, instead of the rather bland, samey line-up of today. And yet, in the past ten years, the amount of albums sold has increased considerably since then, to the extent that the single market is now less important than it used to be. It's just that all the excitement and interest seems to have vanished.
Perhaps the singles chart provides a glimmer of hope? Well, it does, but not really. It has much more variety than the album chart, but this is because hardly anybody is buying singles any more. Consider Graham Coxon's new entry this week, "Freakin' Out". With a placing at #37, it looks like a poor showing at first; he's reasonably popular with the indie crowd, and he should have done a little bit better. But this single is a limited edition 7". Only 2500 copies have been made. And yet it still managed to enter the Top 40. The singles chart is not doing well at all.
To make matters worse, the record companies refuse to adjust to this new reality; relatively established names like Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Emma Bunton are under the threat of being dropped from their record labels unless they generate hit singles. But their fanbase no longer buys singles in any significant amount, instead going for the better value album, watching the video on one of the many satellite music channels, or downloading it from the Internet. With the change of who's buying albums, album sales that would have looked respectable a few years back are dwarfed by the big name collections and this month's Radio 2-approved fad. They will find themselves dropped by the end of the year, as the record companies shed bands to save money, decimating the mid-list and concentrating solely on the big names who can guarantee sales.
Most of the independent labels of yesteryear that nurtured new talent are now themselves part of the big companies, and are little more than a storefront to project an image of cool. Perhaps we've reached the end times of pop music. All we have left is nostalgia mining; endless ways of convincing the public to buy a resequenced version of Engelbert Humperdinck's greatest hits.