Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the click-through, a look at the new issue of Rolling Stone:
So, after 15 columns, Your Correspondent finally got what he asked for: An issue of Rolling Stone that grapples with the present in a significant sense. And once YC had an eyeful of the cover, his exclamation evoked a recently deceased philosopher: “Holy Cow!”
As you can see, and as your Idolator overlords apprised you last week, the cover boy for the Aug. 23 RS is Zac Efron, the ascendant lead of Disney’s burgeoning High School Musical franchise. Hereupon, the young man appears to be struggling with his white T-shirt, or feeling himself up, or scratching a nagging mosquito bite…or some shit! Although clearly RS wants to attract the tweenybopper market for one issue at least, the image reminds YC of a 1990 Tom Cruise cover: after all, RS has long been just as susceptible to the charms of a pretty boy with a blinding smile as any teenage girl.
Should a reader be in their 30s-40s, but not a parent of an eight- to 16-year old, check the story out: You might learn something. YC is in that category and was fairly familiar with the HSM phenomenon, and thinks that the kid seems pretty together and likable for someone who, in another year or so, will notice that his male peers think he’s a pussy and thus be furious with his management for allowing him to be photographed as such.
The author of “The New American Heartthrob” is Neil “Style” Strauss, a scribe who, when not evangelizing for a quasi-cult premised on turning nerds into douchebags, never fails in contributing top-flight, insightful copy. Everyone who disdains every succession of teenybopper music directed at younger people than they should read it. (BTW: YC should say that he once saw Style at work; his techniques did not succeed on one particular woman that evening.)
Then it’s 180 time: “Clapton’s Guitar Summit,” y’all! Clapton, B.B. King, John Mayer, Jeff Beck, Robbie Robertson, Derek Trucks, Stevie Winwood, and a bunch of other dudes gathered in Chicago for Crossroads, a celebration of the “defining rock and roll instrument” (a phrase that doesn’t appear in this RS but is implied in the mag often). Its author, naturally, is David Fricke, a fellow given to purplish phrases like “fuzz-laced scream” and “barbed treble run” and who never heard a Clapton album he wouldn’t praise. In his telling, it’s all so, so wonderful–but a pretty needless sidebar, the equally unimaginatively headlined “Backstage at Crossroads,” is authored by one Gus Wenner. It seems that the Wenner boys are all joining the family business: YC wonders which one’s Fredo!
(Incidentally, this issue is particularly nepo-tastic: the Random Notes section includes photos of two of Sting’s children, both of whom have musical aspirations, and the review section includes a three star appraisal of Neil Young’s wife’s debut album. And Idolator’s sister site has suggested that a bunch of ’70s rock offspring are interning there this summer.)
Then there’s “Rock Radio Bounces Back,” written by Steve Knopfer. For the past couple of years, RS has watched rock radio’s fortunes closely in news stories: its somewhat alarmed telling has been that it’s in decline. But two events have prompted RS to proclaim that said decline is in reverse. One is that a device called the Portable People Meter has been affixed to 10,000 people in Philadelphia and Houston and records the stations that listeners encounter, as opposed to the notoriously inaccurate diaries in which respondents would account for their listening habits. PPM seems like the SoundScan of radio, and it has shown has shown that young and young-ish men in those markets listen to rock radio a lot more than previously reported. After all, maintaining a diary is gonna cut into whacking-off and gaming time, right?
The other event is the New York City station K-Rock’s recent return from the miserable failure of a post-Stern, all-talk format to playing the hits from the last great flowering of radio rock: Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Offspring, Sublime (as well as Daughtry, Muse and that marvelous Plain White T’s tune). Now, YC, a New York resident, has no idea whether the aforesaid PPM device will, once it’s used in other markets, lead to a rock radio resurgence. But he did have the great misfortune of listening to K-Rock for a few hours recently, and it is his duty to report that it is the tightest, most surprise-free butt-rock play list he’s ever heard … and he’s heard some shitty radio in his day. K-Rock is essentially like the New York area’s boomer-focused Q104.3, but targeted towards the nephews or younger cousins of Q’s listenership.
New York City’s radio landscape is the largest but easily the most intensely focused in the country. A committed hip-hop fan there pretty much has to listen to NYC’s Hot 97 to keep abreast of new tunes and who-said-what-to-whom, but committed rock fans in the NYC area are much harder for advertisers to pin down: many don’t drive, many use devices that make conventional radio redundant, and many would rather have hot diarrhea for several hours than spend the same amount of time to hear a Stone Temple Pilots song followed by a 30 Seconds to Mars tune followed by a Korn tantrum, etc etc. But K-Rock doesn’t want committed rock fans. They want, say, Yankee fans with disposable income to not change the channel while driving around the Nassau County, so it’s butt-rock faves all the way. That makes sense, and that’s fine.
But Rolling Stone is heralding the return of a clearly conservative rock radio format focusing on bands that hew closely to classic rock archetypes. If they can’t rely on fans that have deserted print media and terrestrial radio and favor indie rock, they’ll present vaguely booster-ish articles about pseudo-trends in radio aimed at consumers they too covet. So you have that guitar summit article mentioned above for ponytail-sporters, and you’ll have a largely laudatory review of a Dave Matthews live album for their fratboy kin. If it’s “rock,” RS must support it.
Of course, they’ll try to educate those readers: for instance, the four and 1/2 star lead review of Kala. M.I.A. could arguably be said to have been put on this Earth so that Robert Christgau could tie his prose in knots in her praise (and again, YC plans to dissect RS‘s tiny pool of reviewers soon-ish).
Rolling Stone would like to be all things to everyone. They’ll experiment by placing a cute boy on the cover to attract young girls who might impulsively part with four bucks upon seeing it in the supermarket. But the men who like manly music will be disgusted by that cute boy, and RS needs those guys to keep reading.