Back in 2004, Usher’s fourth studio album, Confessions, sold nearly eight million copies in the United States in a nine-month span. This astounding performance helped pick up the music industry during a tumultuous time to burst through the threshold that year into positive album sales territory by the time January 1, 2005 came around. A similar story has been written for the year we just completed. Guided by 21, the breakthrough sophomore album by British songstress Adele, the year-end sales figures for 2011 were an increase from 2010. The increase doesn’t come as that big of a surprise when considering the fact that the 5.82-million-selling 21 is accompanied by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, The Throne’s Watch the Throne, Drake’s Take Care, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV, and eight other albums that sold over a million copies last year. But what does come as a slight shock is the fact that 2011 is the first year that album sales in the U.S. have increased from the year prior since Confessions helped boost the industry in 2004. There’s no doubt that the music business is still going through a time of change that isn’t always to the benefit of major record labels, but perhaps the year-end sales for 2011 show that it’s growth that’s occurring, not depression. To read the full SoundScan sales roundup for 2011, head over to Billboard.biz.