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JACKSON debuts at No. 1 on album charts; does in-store appearance to boost sales


NEW YORK (AP) _ Michael Jackson proved ``Invincible'' to negative reviews. His first new album in almost six years has debuted at the top of the charts, according to figures released Wednesday.

Jackson's ``Invincible'' sold 366,272 copies in its first week of release in the United States; it also debuted at No. 1 in a dozen countries overseas. The album succeeded despite mixed to harsh criticism from music reviewers: The headline of Entertainment Weekly's review was ``King of Pap.''

Music industry watchers said the figures were encouraging for Jackson.

``For someone who has not been visible musically in a long time, I think it's a very strong first week,'' said MTV's Tom Calderone.

It may be time for Jackson to give up his ``King of Pop'' moniker, however. ``Invincible'' sold far fewer than the 1.9 million copies that 'N Sync's ``Celebrity'' moved in its debut week last summer. Even last week's No. 1 debut, from gruff rapper DMX, sold 439,957 copies.

Still, it was one of the best debuts of Jackson's career, which is filled with top-selling discs, including the all-time best-seller ``Thriller.''

But Jackson's reign at the top of the charts is likely to be brief _ Britney Spears' third disc, ``Britney,'' was released Tuesday, and is expected to post first-week sales of near 1 million.

``I think everybody should be happy with this for a first-week number,'' said Alan Light, editor of Spin magazine. ``The question now is: Were those the die-hard fans? Now we'll see what the effect of word of mouth will be, because he's got to compete against Britney this week and everything that's coming out in the next.''

Perhaps mindful of his tenuous spot at No. 1, Jackson was at the Virgin Megastore at Times Square on Wednesday to do something usually reserved for new or less successful acts _ sign copies of his disc for fans.

At one point, he made a grand appearance in front of the store, stepping onto a podium outside to acknowledge the huge crowd. Hundreds of people rushed to get a glimpse of the star, clad in a blue sweatsuit.

While no media were permitted inside, MTV's Carson Daly interviewed Jackson briefly for his ``TRL'' show across the street, congratulating him on having the nation's best-selling disc.

Jackson may get a boost when his much-hyped 30th anniversary concerts, held in September at Madison Square Garden, are aired as a two-hour, CBS prime-time special Tuesday.

Calderone said it's critical for Jackson to keep a high profile since more top-sellers _ including Creed and Kid Rock _ will debut discs in the next few weeks.

``He's gotta continue this,'' Calderone said. ``The people that he's competing against on the chart ... all these guys are out there all the time, and they're not hiding, and that's the way you maintain the sales story.''

So far, Calderone said, Jackson hasn't done that. His only major interview has been with TV Guide, to promote the CBS special. And his few public outings have not been well received; the Madison Square Garden concerts were skewered by critics as bloated and tacky, while his performance at last month's United We Stand concert in Washington was marred by technical glitches.

More importantly, audiences gave a lukewarm response to his first single, ``You Rock My World.'' After debuting high, it quickly fell out of the top 10 and now hovers in the bottom half of Billboard's Top 100 singles chart.

The video, however, has received heavy airplay on the three major music television channels: VH1, MTV and BET. Jackson was VH1's artist of the month in October.

``Certainly speaking for the VH1 audience, it's been received in a great way,'' said Rick Krim, an executive vice president at the network. ``Every time we put something on with Michael Jackson, our ratings go up.''

Another new single, ``Butterflies,'' is already moving up the charts.

Whether it will be enough to sustain Jackson's latest comeback is another question.

``I think what Michael really needs is an undeniable smash single,'' Light said. ``I just don't hear a single on this record that's big like that.''
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