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New albums top U.S. pop charts with puny sales

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georgeWhat a difference two years makes in the ailing music industry.

Country star Reba McEntire scored her second No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart Wednesday after selling 96,000 copies of “Keep On Loving You.” In September 2007, she hit No. 1 with the star-studded “Reba Duets” set. Its first-week tally: 301,000 copies. If the new album had come out then, its sales would have been good enough only for No. 7.

Last week’s chart-topper, fellow country icon George Strait, is also suffering lower sales, but not quite as bad. “Twang,” the fifth No. 1 of his career, debuted with 155,000 units last week, 16 months after “Troubadour” debuted at No. 1 with 166,000 and almost three years after “It Just Comes Natural” launched at No. 3 with 232,000.

The good news for Strait is that sales for “Twang” dropped 61 percent in its second week, compared with falls of 65 percent for “Troubadour” and 62 percent for “It Just Comes Natural.”

Who would have guessed that one would need to sell only 49,000 copies to have the No. 3 album in the United States? That honor goes to ’90s rock band Third Eye Blind with its first album in six years, “Ursa Major.” Its previous album, “Out of the Vein,” debuted at No. 12 with 63,000 copies, while 1999′s “Blue” started with 75,000. Back in those days, such a tally was good enough for a modest start at No. 40.

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