As if we needed another reminder that the start of 2014 has brought about a dearth of buzzy new albums, next week's Billboard competition will pit the 49th edition of "Now That's What I Call Music!" against the months-old "Frozen" soundtrack.
The beloved Disney movie's soundtrack has basked in the top spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart for four consecutive weeks. That could change next week, however, with "Now 49" poised to take its place. Industry forecasters expect the pop compilation -- which will include Lorde's "Royals," Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" and Bruno Mars' "Gorilla" -- to sell about 90,000 copies. If that figure holds steady, the 49th volume will debut at No. 1 despite moving about 25,000 copies fewer than November's "Now 48."
If "Frozen" maintains its lead, it will be one of the longest-reigning soundtracks to sit atop the charts in recent years. "Titanic" monopolized sales for 16 consecutive weeks in early 1998, and Billboard.com points out that "Waiting to Exhale" spent five rounds ahead of the race in 1996. "Bad Boys II" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" made splashes in the 2000s.
Regardless of which album dominates music sales next week, one thing is certain: There has yet to be an event album this year. Only one substantial release of 2014 -- Bruce Springsteen's "High Hopes" -- has claimed the No. 1 spot, and, three weeks after its debut, it's already fallen to No. 29. Obviously bolstered by the recent Grammy Awards, the current Top 20 is populated with 14 albums that dropped in 2013 or 2012, including Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "The Heist" and Kacey Musgraves' "Same Trailer Different Park." At No. 2 is the Grammys' annual compilation of nominated songs, while "Kidz Bop 25" fills another slot, leaving only four completely fresh albums (Of Mice & Men's "Restoring Force," Casting Crowns' "Thrive," Andy Mineo's "Never Land" and Jennifer Nettles' "That Girl") with dents in the top fifth of the chart.
Last year's first Billboard rankings saw a similar trend when Taylor Swift's "Red" rebounded for a four-week return to No. 1, but by mid-January, new albums had dethroned the pop princess. The "Les Misérables" soundtrack mastered the year's third albums chart, with A$AP Rocky, Chris Tomlin, Gary Allan and Josh Groban all releasing new projects that peaked at No. 1 in the weeks that followed. In 2012, however, Adele's "21" dominated for 10 weeks, even though it had already been out for a year. The only top-tier A-listers to release albums during that 10-week stint were Lana Del Rey, fun. and Paul McCartney, who issued an collection of cover songs. Adele was eventually bumped by Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball."
It's time the music industry stops clogging our album selections with compilations and Grammy leftovers. Perhaps the next month will turn things around, but the odds are slim. Country fans may pine for Eric Church's "The Outsiders," Beck will release his 12th studio album and The Fray return with "Helios." Other albums on the horizon include Dierks Bentley's "Riser," Foster the People's "Supermodel," Lea Michele's "Louder" and Kylie Minogue's "Kiss Me Once."