It even underperformed Some Devil, Dave's 2002 solo release by a few thousand copies. What is the culprit? It only slightly outperformed Before These Crowded Streets debut, the album that really launched dmb into the front-and-center mainstream. Two prominent explanations come to mind. First, the record industry is in free-fall. Industry sales have dropped about 10% each year for the last three, a figure that understates actual unit declines, as CD prices have risen during the precipitous decline in inventory movement to cover the losses, even as complementary items have become dirt-cheap (CD-Rs, CD/DVD players, etc). File-sharing, digital downloads, a myriad of "artists" available via the internet from every corner of the globe, and a shift in cultural values, among other things, have certainly contributed to the industry's imbrolgio. Maybe MTV and the three-minute ditty was the beginning of the end. Dmb is not immune to that kind of systematic shift, but with its putative super-loyal fanbase it's hard to have imagined it would hit the band this hard. It doesn't appear to be an exhaustive explanation.
Unsystematic changes comprise the second set of factors; these are more open to debate. Certainly the band's recent music has become less idiosyncratic and the songs have decreased in both length and complexity. The albums seem to be made for radio--the best Crash and Under the Table and Dreaming songs are not the tracks that got the radio play (Too Much, So Much to Say, and Crash vs. Two Step, #41, and Lie in Our Graves, etc), but with Before These Crowded Streets that changed. Of course these are generalizations, but for the most part long-time fans would tend to agree. The "Dancing Nancies" and the "#41"s are a thing of the past. This shift has decreased the band's salience to unique sound-seekers looking for something less conforming.
Fans who followed the band early on have left their adolescent and college years behind and consequently listen to less music. No doubt Dave's political opining turned some people off as well. While the record industry, like the rest of the entertainment scene, is a bastion of liberal-progressive thought, people from all over the political spectrum like music. It wasn't scientific, but a nancies.org poll showed a sizable minority of visitors supported George W. Bush in the 2004 Presidential election (unfortunately nancies.org restricts archival access to the webmasters, so a link is not possible). The South African came out against the operation in Iraq before it had even begun, leaving an impression of political subterfuge. Dave's flummoxing rhetoric in the notoriously anti-military magazine Rolling Stone didn't exactly contain inspirational prowess, but no doubt it did turn some people off:
Aside from "the world" apparently not including Japan, Taiwan, Israel, Mexico, Colombia, India, Australia, Great Britain, and Poland, his indictment of America for taking preemptive action (philosophically supported by most Americans) against two of the world's most ruthless regimes on moral grounds was too much. While the toppling of the Taliban and subsequent rebuilding have gone relatively well, Iraq is another story. Economically it has been just short of disastrous, the western intelligence agencies have been irreparably embarrassed, and American boys have paid the ultimate price. But for those who have seen Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America the parallels between the United States prior to the Iraq invasion and the UN's handling of the Rwanda situation (see Hotel Rwanda) are unavoidable: Iraqi civilian's tongues being torn out with pliers, bound men thrown off five-story buildings by the Ba'athist guard, children executed in front of their mothers, etc). Regardless of the odious motives of the two powers (see the seismic Oil-for-Food scandal that demonstrates a big-business hunger for profit that dwarfs Halliburton's price-gouging), it's hard to say that continued acquiescence would have been anything but turpitude of the worst order. Most of Dave's fans probably agreed with his assessment, but many did not. It was too vague an attack and did not offer solutions. Boyd Tinsley's criticism was more tempered and rational, and likely did no damage to the band's reputation.
We've got to get somebody new in the White House. Being from South Africa, I know how much the rest of the world fears the United States right now. It's like if the world is a room, and everybody is in there, and suddenly somebody walks in who is seething and has headphones on, and the music is playing really loud, and he's armed. That's the way the world sees us. Everyone is on tiptoes, afraid of what this country might do. It's bound to scare everybody.
The band's zenith came somewhere between Before These Crowded Streets and Everyday. Debuting at number one does not demonstrate a nadir, but it must be admitted that the apex has come and gone on account of various forces. Still, in the foreseeable future most shows should continue to sell out, and the band's unique sound has become a permanent part of American music's history.