By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated May 01, 2003 01:00 PM

Despite reviews that could be most politely called unenthusiastic, Madonna’s “American Life” album scored a No. 1 debut on the album charts Wednesday, though its first-week figures trailed far behind those for her previous album, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The new album sold 241,000 copies last week, compared to the more than 419,000 copies her 2000 album, “Music,” sold in its first week.

Still, there was enough life in “Life” to propel it to the top of the chart — especially since no other album last week topped the 150,000 sales mark.

Rapper 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” sold 142,000 for second place (the collection has sold nearly 4.4 million copies since its February release), and “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson, whose debut album, “Thankful,” sold 297,000 copies in its first week in stores, slipped to No. 3 its second week. It sold only 134,000 copies in the second round.

The only other new release to join Madonna in the Top 20 was, at No. 18, the soundtrack for “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” It sold 51,000 copies.

Rounding out the rest of the top 10, according to Reuters, were rap-metal band Linkin Park at No. 4 with “Meteora,” followed by Cher’s best-of collection (No. 5); the Grammy-winning album “Come Away With Me” from jazz vocalist Norah Jones (No. 6); rock’s Evanescence with “Fallen” (No. 7); veteran rockers Fleetwood Mac’s latest “Say You Will” (No. 8) and the latest “Now” compilation from various artists (No. 9).

The White Stripes’ “Elephant” climbed six places to No. 15 in its fourth week (314,000 copies), while Lisa Marie Presley’s “To Whom It May Concern” is No. 17 in its fourth week (279,000).

Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks’ album “Home,” which has been taking its licks since the controversy over Natalie Maines’s derogatory remarks about President Bush in London last month, climbed 10 spaces to No. 23 after the trio did some high-profile interviews. All told, “Home” has sold 5.3 million copies since September.