Garth Brooks' "Scarecrow" (Capitol), released Tuesday (Nov. 13), is widely expected to top next week's Billboard 200, but music retailers surveyed by Billboard Bulletin say the set is off to a lukewar

Garth Brooks' "Scarecrow" (Capitol), released Tuesday (Nov. 13), is widely expected to top next week's Billboard 200, but music retailers surveyed by Billboard Bulletin say the set is off to a lukewarm start. Stealing some of Brooks' thunder, to the surprise of many retailers, is the English-language debut from Colombian star Shakira, "Laundry Service" (Epic).

"We expected [Shakira] to do well, but it's outselling Madonna, and that's a huge surprise to us," says Dave Alder, senior VP of product and marketing for Virgin Entertainment Group North America. Madonna's hits set "GHV2" (Maverick) was also released this week. Jim Kaminski, rock buyer for Tower Records' Greenwich Village outlet in New York, believes Shakira may be the holiday season's first breakout hit. The set is the sales leader at his store for the week so far.

Many retailers expect "Scarecrow" to take flight this weekend, noting that Brooks' audience skews older and is less likely to rush to a store on Tuesday. "We got 90 copies of 'Scarecrow,' but we haven't sold any yet," says Kobie Andry, product manager for a Wherehouse Music in San Francisco. "That's not unusual for Brooks, because it'll sell a ton over the weekend."

Others note that Brooks will perform better at ike Wal-Mart and Kmart than at music outlets. Still, Alder doesn't believe "Scarecrow" can top the 897,000 first-week total of his last non-Christmas solo set, "Sevens," in 1997. John Artale, buyer for National Record Mart, says the success of the new set will depend on a hit single. "Wrapped up in You" is at No. 61 on The Billboard Hot 100.

On a whole, retailers are starting to appear more optimistic about this year's holiday season, with Alder reporting that Virgin's sales this week are ahead of those of the same period last year. Other titles that appear to be gathering steam are Paul McCartney's "Driving Rain" (Capitol) -- "It'll be a good gift for someone over 40," say Tower's Kaminski -- and Radiohead's live set "I Might Be Wrong" (Capitol). "Radiohead got off to a great start," says Alder. "For a live record, it's doing spectacularly."

Finally, several retailers say No Doubt's upcoming Interscope album "Rock Steady" (due Dec. 11) is generating a buzz. "It's taken time to restimulate the market after Sept. 11, and there's still a long way to go, but I believe that's the record that will stimulate sales in December," says Alder.