This is the first time an album has returned to No. 1 after a three week absence in over a year. The last time it happened was on the chart dated Dec. 27, 2008 when Taylor Swift's "Fearless" climbed from No. 2 to No. 1 in its fifth week on the chart. The set had debuted at No. 1 five weeks earlier with 592,000 and then let three albums take successive turns in the pole position before returning to the top. (Those three albums were Beyonce's "I Am ... Sasha Fierce," Kanye West's "808s and Heartbreak" and Britney Spears' "Circus.") "Fearless" would go on to rack a total of 11 non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200.
Also this week, six new albums arrive in the top 10 -- the most the tally has seen since the list dated Oct. 17, 2009 when eight started in the region. Right behind Sade, we see the bow of Blake Shelton's new "Hillbilly Bone" at No. 3 with 71,000. It's the country singer's sixth studio set and it earns his highest rank ever on the chart. Additionally, it claims his best sales week since his second album "The Dreamer" started with 77,000 at No. 8 in 2003.
As reported last week, Shelton's album is a shorter-than-usual six-song effort that carries an attractive list price. It's the first offering in Warner Music's new "six pack" concept, where some of the company's acts aim to release value-priced six-song albums in close intervals. Shelton's plan is to issue at least one or two more six-song sets before the end of the year. (This would buck the tradition of an act dropping a full-length album every year or two.)
Last week, Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon.com offered "Hillbilly's" physical CD for a sale price of $4.99 while Best Buy sold it at $6.99. Both the iTunes and Amazon MP3 stores were selling it for a higher price than some of their physical competitors, as the etailers had it listed for $5.99.
Up next in the parade of debuts is last year's third-place finisher from "American Idol," Danny Gokey, who sees his debut set "My Best Days" land at No. 4 with 65,000. Over on the Top Country Albums chart, it starts at No. 3 behind Lady A and Shelton. Gokey's set follows the post-season eight "Idol" album releases from winner Kris Allen ("Kris Allen," No. 11 with an 80,000 debut), runner-up Adam Lambert ("For Your Entertainment," No. 3; 198,000) and fourth-place finisher Allison Iraheta ("Just Like You," No. 35; 32,000).
The "Almost Alice" album, a soundtrack/companion set to the new Johnny Depp film "Alice in Wonderland," debuts at No. 5 with 58,000. The set boasts a variety of acts contributing songs that were inspired by the film's subject matter. It also sports the movie's end-titles track "Alice" by Avril Lavigne.
Lifehouse's "Smoke and Mirrors" is right behind "Alice," entering at No. 6 with 54,000. The set is the fifth studio release from the band and was originally scheduled for a December 2009 bow. It's the act's fourth top 10 set and it arrives with their best sales week since its self-titled third album entered with 63,000 at No. 10 in 2005.
Two long-running albums manage to cling to their top 10 perches, as Lady Gaga's "The Fame" slips two rungs to No. 7 (49,000; up 2%) while the Black Eyed Peas' "The E.N.D." falls four slots to No. 8 (46,000; down 7%).
Closing out the top 10 are two more debuts: Raheem DeVaughn starts at No. 9 with his "The Love and MasterPeace" (45,000). His previous album, "Love Behind the Melody," debuted and peaked at No. 5 with 45,000 in 2008. Lastly, country singer Easton Corbin arrives with his self-titled full-length debut set at No. 10 with 43,000. Just missing the top 10 is the eponymous first album from Jason Derulo, bowing at No. 11 with 42,000.
Overall album sales in this past chart week (ending March 7) totaled 6.27 million units, up 5% compared to the sum last week (5.99 million) and down 11% compared to the comparable sales week of 2009 (7.06 million).