A GOOD BLOWFISH IS HARD TO FIND

           TO MOST OBSERVERS, boomers and otherwise, Rolling Stone's reputation for journalistic upstart-ism has been slipping over the years in direct proportion to its increasing music-club inserts and nudie-starlet cover packages. At the same time, the magazine has had to contend with the rise of alternative rock and club music culture, new youth music with which its writers often seem to have to play catch-up.

           Earlier this month, the magazine was the focus of an industry controversy following an incident reported in the New York Observer. According to the report, a negative review of the new album by platinum snooze-rockers Hootie and the Blowfish, written by Senior Editor Jim DeRogatis, was killed and replaced with a more favorable review, written by contributor Elysa Gardner. DeRogatis, ex-music critic for The Chicago Sun-Times, was part of a spate of new hirings last year which brought fresh blood to the magazine. (Mark Kemp and Keith Moerer, former editors of Option and Request, respectively, were also brought on board.)

           The Observer quoted a spokesman for Rolling Stone saying the review swap was a matter of writing quality and not opinion, and DeRogatis saying Rolling Stone Editor and Publisher Jann Wenner is not necessarily a Hootie fan, but "a fan of bands that sell eight and a half million copies" of a record. The day after the piece ran, DeRogatis was fired. (A follow-up piece in the Observer said Rolling Stone would not discuss DeRogatis's departure for reasons of employer-employee privacy.)

           As the smoke clears, we thought our readers might like to read DeRogatis's original review, which follows. (Hermes)

AMERICAN BLANDSTAND

by Jim DeRogatis

Hootie and the Blowfish

Fairweather Johnson

Atlantic

           WITH SOUNDSCAN-CERTIFIED sales of 8.5 million for its Atlantic debut, Cracked Rear View, the humble South Carolina bar band Hootie and the Blowfish hit that strata of hyper-popularity where people who never buy records bought the record. But whether or not Fairweather Johnson ever meets those chart accomplishments--and to date, it ain't even coming close--it is certainly its predecessor's artistic equal. Which is to say it's an album full of what Hootie themselves call "silly little pop songs"--no more, no less.

           Tunes such as "Be the One," "Honeyscrew," and "Tucker Town" (which was inspired by a band vacation to Bermuda) don't vary much from the formula of Hootie hits like "Hold My Hand" and "Only Wanna Be With You." There are insidious hooks aplenty and hints of Stax/Volt soulfulness courtesy of the occasional Hammond organ and Darius Rucker's pleasingly gruff vocals (think Eddie Vedder imitating Otis Redding). All of the songs overflow with generic jangly guitars that evoke denatured versions of edgier Southern popsters like R.E.M. and the dB's, whose Peter Holsapple is reduced by the need for health insurance to serving as fifth Hootie on organ, piano, and accordion.

           These comfy, cozy sounds--the musical equivalent of Mom's chocolate chip cookies and a big glass of milk--are paired with lyrics that reek of Hallmark-card sentimentality. "I thought about you for a long, long time/I wrote about you, but the words don't seem to rhyme/Now you're lying near/But my heart still beats for you," Rucker sings in the weepy ballad "Tootie." Are these the sweet nothings of a bunch of regular Joes struggling to express their romantic feelings, or the trite clichés of hack songwriters who just wanna get laid? It would be easier to believe the former if the band hadn't chosen sophomoric sex jokes worthy of Beavis and Butthead for their last three album titles (Kootchypop, Cracked Rear View, Fairweather Johnson).

           To these ears, Hootie are the blandest extreme of a wave of bands for whom blame can be placed squarely on the Grateful Dead. The Spin Doctors, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and most of the other "baby Dead" or "jam" bands try to uphold the Dead's ideals of exploring diverse musical genres such as jazz, bluegrass, and worldbeat from a rock perspective, as well as transcending the everyday through a combination of hallucinogens, music, and community. Hootie doesn't even attempt the first (though they do stretch things out a bit live), and they only succeed at the second if you consider Bud Lite a psychedelic drug.

           But the connection to the Dead is there in a recording style that reduces American Beauty and Workingman's Dead to their lowest common denominators: a down-home hippie folksiness, a lilting melodic approach, and, of course, that lazy, elastic groove. Hootie music never rocks, and you certainly can't dance to it; at best, you just sort of do the awkward white-person wiggle so prominent at Dead and baby Dead shows alike. (Remember, too, that David Crosby, the Dead's secret weapon on American Beauty and Workingman's Dead, also crafted the harmonies on "Hold My Hand.")

           Come hear Uncle Hootie's band, playing to the crowds. More than 8 million buyers can't be wrong. Or can they?

           LOCAL TIPS

           WHILE DAWN DROUILLARD is fully recovering from her recent surgery for thyroid cancer, the vivacious Interstate Judy vocalist and Loring Bar employee is faced with another crisis that often afflicts musicians: no health insurance. On top of that, she was out of work for a month, and I-Judy is left unable to gig for most of the spring and summer. Fortunately the music scene has a way of taking care of its own, hence the two star-studded Dawn-benefits taking place this week. Part One is Sunday at the Loring, with The Strawdogs, Peal, Casino Royale, and Shoe Tree, with Jim and Dave Boquist. (8 p.m. $6; 332-1617.) Monday, the 7th St. Entry hosts Part Two: Rifle Sport (no kidding), The John Ewing Band with Curtiss A, 40 Oz. Superhero, and Flour reincarnate. (8 p.m. $6; 338-8388.) There will also be a raffle, and all proceeds will help along Drouillard's financial recovery. And we're looking forward to seeing I-Judy onstage soon, especially in light of their new self-titled cassette release.

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