Michael Jackson album fails to top pop chart

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michael Jackson’s first posthumous studio album was the top seller around the world during its first week of release, his label said on Wednesday, but was held to a modest No. 3 debut in the United States.

Posters promoting the launch of a posthumous Michael Jackson album titled 'Michael' are pictured in Hollywood December 8, 2010. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The collection of unfinished recordings, simply titled “Michael,” took the No. 1 slot in Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden, said Sony Corp-owned Epic Records.

It was also a top-five starter in Belgium (No. 2), Canada (No. 2), Japan (No. 3 ), Britain (No. 4), France (No. 4) and Denmark (No. 4).

In Germany, “Michael” was the biggest debut of the year, selling 85,000 copies, Epic said. Its British start of 113,000 copies was the best for Jackson since 1991’s “Dangerous.”

In the United States, the world’s largest music market, “Michael” sold about 228,000 copies during the week ended December 19. Music trade publication Billboard reported last month that Epic was projecting first-week sales of about 400,000 copies.

“Michael” was bested by Taylor Swift’s “Speak,” which returned to No. 1 for a third, nonconsecutive week with 259,000 copies, and former chart-topper Susan Boyle’s “The Gift” with 254,000 copies.

Jackson’s previous release, the “This Is It” compilation soundtrack, debuted at No. 1 in the United States a year ago with 373,000 units. Jackson was the biggest selling artist in the United States last year, selling 8.3 million albums mostly in the wake of his death in June at the age of 50.

His fortunes had long been on the wane in the United States, where his career was overshadowed by his bizarre behavior and allegations of inappropriate contact with young boys. Foreign fans were more forgiving, and Jackson was planning a series of comeback concerts in London until he succumbed to an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

“Michael” marks the first of what is expected to be many forays into Jackson’s trove of unreleased recordings by the executors of his estate. Big-name producers were hired to finish the tracks, and in some cases had to use digital technology to recreate Jackson’s voice.

Clocking in at an economical 42 minutes, the 10-track album had critics wondering if Jackson, a notorious perfectionist, would have approved of it.

The New York Times described it as “a rush job,” while Rolling Stone said it was “a grab bag of outtakes and outlines.” Entertainment Weekly said it was a “solid” improvement on his last studio release, “Invincible.” That 2001 album debuted at No. 1 in the United States with 366,000 copies, but was ultimately viewed as a commercial and creative disappointment.

Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte