Strong debuts from Mario Winans and Prince fail to dislodge Usher's "Confessions" from the top of The Billboard 200. U.S. sales of the LaFace/Zomba set are down 16% to 253,000 copies, according to Nie

Strong debuts from Mario Winans and Prince fail to dislodge Usher's "Confessions" from the top of The Billboard 200. U.S. sales of the LaFace/Zomba set are down 16% to 253,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, but it maintains a narrow lead over Winans' Bad Boy debut "Hurt No More." With five straight weeks at the top of chart, "Confessions" has now sold more than 2.6 million copies.

"Hurt No More" gives Winans his first charting album, arriving at No. 2 with more than 222,000 in first-week sales. Winans released "Story of My Heart" on Motown in 1997, but the album failed to generate a hit, and has sold only 15,500 copies to date. Since then, he's worked as a producer or songwriter with R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige, among others. The Enya-sampling first single "I Don't Wanna Know" has reached the top five on Billboard's Hot 100 and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks tally.

Prince's "Musicology" (Columbia) gives the artist his best week on the chart since 1991's "Diamonds & Pearls" (Warner Bros.) opened in the top five. "Musicology," which Prince is giving away to ticketholders on his current tour, lands at No. 3 with 191,000 copies. That number includes about 12,600 copies that were given to fans at Prince's April 21 show in Columbia, S.C.

Prince has spent much or the past few years releasing music via his NPG fan club, and "Musicology" is his first alignment with a major label since 1998's "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic." The set has been hailed as a return to form of sorts, featuring the old-school funk-influenced R&B that Prince has mastered throughout his career. To date, the promise of a free copy for concert-goers does not seem to be hurting Prince's sales. His 2001 album "The Rainbow Children" (Redline) sold 23,000 copies in its first week, while "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" (NPG/Arista) moved 84,000 first-week units.

Ghostface Killah enjoys his first top-10 showing since 2000's "Supreme Clientele" (Epic). Now performing as just Ghostface, his "The Pretty Toney Album" (Def Jam) enters at No. 6 with 69,000 copies. His 2001 set "Bulletproof Wallets" (Epic) arrived at No. 34, but had a higher first-week total at 76,000 copies. "Clientele" was even better, arriving at No. 7 with 135,000 copies.

Contemporary gospel act MercyMe scores its best debut on The Billboard 200 this week with "Undone" (Word), which arrives at No. 12 with 56,000 copies. The band's 2002 set "Spoken For" peaked at No. 31, and has sold 547,000 copies to date, while its 2001 album "Almost There" has sold 1.5 million copies since its release. New single "Here With Me" is up 14-10 on Billboard's Hot Christian Singles & Tracks tally.

Other notable debuts include Drowning Pool's "Desensitized" (Wind-Up) at No. 17 with 42,000 copies, Hanson's "Underneath" (3CG) at No. 25 with 38,000 copies, Fear Factory's "Archetype" (Liquid 8) at No. 30 with 32,000 copies and John Michael Montgomery's "Letters From Home" (Warner Bros.) at No. 31 with 30,000 copies.

Overall U.S. album sales are up about 3% to 10.6 million copies, about 1.5% lower than the comparable week last year. Sales for the year are about 7.6% ahead of 2003. Next week, look for a major debut from "D12 World," the sophomore Shady/Interscope effort from the Eminem-led D12. The set is poised to score the largest hip-hop opening of the year and end Usher's reign at the top.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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