Usher has scored the best <A HREF="http://www.billboard.com/bb/biz/newsroom/music/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000475298">opening sales week</A> ever for a male R&amp;B artist and the best debu

Usher has scored the best opening sales week ever for a male R&B artist and the best debut week of 2004 with his fifth Arista set "Confessions." The album debuts at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 with sales of 1.096 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, to give the singer his first chart-topping album. R. Kelly's 2000 Jive album "tp-2.com" set the previous high-water mark for R&B male artist sales with 543,000 copies in its first week.

To set the 2004 sales record, "Confessions" topped the 1.02 million copies sold by Norah Jones' "Feels Like Home" (Blue Note) upon its entry last month. In fact, the album sports the largest sales week since June 2002, when "The Eminem Show" (Interscope) moved 1.3 million copies.

Prior to "Confessions," Usher's best sales week came during the 2001 Christmas season, when his "8701" sold 338,000 copies. "8701" peaked at No. 4 on The Billboard 200, and has sold 4.3 million copies to date.

"Confessions," one of five top-10 debuts this week, ends the six-week run of Jones' "Feels Like Home" at No. 1. Sales of the set fell 17.7% to 121,000 copies and the set drops to No. 5 on the chart. The rush of big new titles pushed overall U.S. sales up about 13.7% to 12.8 million copies, about 11.2% ahead of the comparable week last year. Sales for the year are up 9.2% over those of 2003.

Opening at No. 2 with sales of 343,000 copies is the 15th volume in the "NOW That's What I Call Music!" series (Universal/EMI/Zomba/Sony). The last "NOW" album entered at No. 3 in November with sales of 322,000 copies.

Guns N' Roses' "Greatest Hits" (Geffen) bows at No. 3 with 169,000 copies. Original members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan filed a lawsuit to block the album, claiming they had no input in the project and the company had no right to remix their songs. But a judge denied their request for an injunction to stop the release.

On the strength of 139,000 copies sold, R&B singer Carl Thomas' sophomore effort, "Let's Talk About It" (Bad Boy) enters at No. 4. That bests the first-week sales of his debut, "Emotional," which entered at No. 9 with 115,000 copies in 2001; to date, the set has sold 1.3 million.

N*E*R*D -- fronted by Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of production duo the Neptunes -- earns the best week of its career with its sophomore effort "Fly or Die." The Virgin set sold 119,000 copies to land at No. 6. The act's 2001 debut, "In Search Of ...," peaked at No. 56, and has sold 603,000 copies to date.

Other new entries on the chart this week include Master P's "Good Side, Bad Side" (Koch, No. 11), Cypress Hill's "Till Death Do Us Part" (Columbia, No. 21), the Vines' "Winning Days" (Capitol, No. 23), Pastor Troy's "By Any Means Necessary" (Universal, No. 30) and the Wind-Up soundtrack to "The Punisher" (No. 33).