Twain paces pack of year-end album sales

Beleaguered record companies got the Christmas treat they’d been praying for this week, as a frenzy of last-minute holiday shopping at record stores sent sales numbers skyrocketing in the last album rankings of the year.

The top echelons of the chart were packed with a who’s who of the bestsellers in 2002, led by country-pop superstar Shania Twain. The singer hung on to the No. 1 position for the fifth week running with her latest LP “Up!” (Mercury Nashville), boosting sales by nearly 22% over the last session to just under 456,000 units.

Twain’s was one of a hefty 42 albums to crack the 100,000-unit sales mark, a leap from just 29 a week earlier. In a reminder of the industry’s difficulties over the past year, however, the latest number fell short of the same week a year ago, when 52 albums crossed the six-figure mark.

Still, this week’s sales performances were heartening. Following Twain was the soundtrack to Eminem biopic “8 Mile” (Interscope/Shady), with 405,000 records sold — a jump of nearly 50% from the previous time out.

And rebounding into the top five was the triple-platinum release “Home” (Columbia) from country trio the Dixie Chicks at third, with sales topping 400,000 discs.

Punk-pop teen queen Avril Lavigne claimed fourth with her blockbuster debut “Let Go” (Arista), on a sales gain of 34% to 363,000. And moving ahead three places to fifth was “This Is Me… Then” (Epic) from Jennifer Lopez with sales up 57% over last week’s performance.

Many other returning performers staged big gains further down the rankings. Faith Hill’s “Cry” Warner Bros.) posted a sales gain of 57% to just under 276,000 units, jumping four spots to ninth place. Jazzy songstress Norah Jones boosted sales of her debut “Come Away With Me” (Blue Note) by 51% to 257,000 units, jumping from No. 15 to No. 11. And Eminem’s third LP “The Eminem Show” (Interscope/Shady) shot up four places to No. 16, on a sales rebound of almost 55%.

One of the few exceptions to the upward mobility on this week’s chart was Whitney Houston. Her latest record “Just Whitney” (Arista) slipped 21 spots to 30. Sales fell 38% to 127,000 units after the singer logged a strong debut earlier in the month.

The only debut of note was from pint-sized rapper Lil’ Romeo. The young hip-hop star’s latest release “Game Time” (Universal) checked in at No. 33, selling nearly 125,000 copies.

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