Monica storms charts, J Records on a roll

Labelmates Vandross, Lennox also in top five

The champagne corks kept popping at J Records this week as the BMG label fielded its second No. 1 bow in as many sessions with R&B star Monica and claimed no fewer than three of the top five releases in the album charts.

Monica’s third full-length release “After the Storm” sold almost 186,000 discs in its debut frame, according to data compiled by Nielsen SoundScan — enough to beat out all comers in an otherwise quiet week for album sales.

Monica also pushed J labelmate Luther Vandross to second place with his disc “Dance With My Father.” Vandross’ sales fell by almost 60% to just over 182,000 units but were still good enough to put the singer well into gold-record territory, with 626,000 sold to date.

Rounding out the J triumvirate was Annie Lennox’s latest disc, “Bare,” which slipped one spot to fifth as sales fell by a modest 39% to 93,000 copies.

The three top performers were enough to make the combined J/RCA operation the top label group in current market share, with 10.5% of albums sold during the week.

RCA Music Group prexy and operating chief Charles Goldstuck said he isn’t concerned about putting all of J’s eggs in one basket by clustering several big releases together. He noted that behind every strong opening week is a much longer period of careful preparation.

“We’ve been working for so long at setting these records up that the street date becomes just a date on the calendar,” he told Daily Variety. “There was a lot more hard work that went into these releases over the past six to nine months.”

Last week’s other top performers, Metallica and Radiohead, both stuck around in the top five as well, but each suffered a hefty second-week slump.

Metallica’s “St. Anger” (Elektra) fell one spot to third, as sales tumbled by 62% to 138,000 discs. Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” (Capitol) also lost one position to land at fourth. Sales of the U.K. group’s sixth release sank by almost 70% to 96,000 discs. Radiohead had made its best bow in the prior session, scanning 300,000 units.

Several of last week’s other strong albums also felt the sting of a slow summer session. Sales dropped by 63% for George Strait’s “Honkytonkville” (MCA Nashville), 48% for Joe Budden’s self-titled debut (Def Jam) and 57% for Steely Dan’s “Everything Must Go” (Warner Bros.).

The only other debuts to crack the top 50 this time out were “Life Is Killing Me” (Roadrunner) from Type O Negative at No. 39 (27,000 discs sold) and the “Reggae Gold 2003” collection (Atlantic/VP) at 43, selling 25,000 copies.

Destiny’s Child front woman Beyonce Knowles has a virtual lock on next week’s No. 1 spot with her solo debut for Columbia Records “Dangerously in Love,” giving Columbia parent Sony Music a welcome shot in the arm after an absence from the top of the charts.