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)
by Jim DeRogatis
Hootie and the Blowfish
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?
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.
Meanwhile, The Posies' fourth album, Amazing Disgrace, has a tune called "Grant Hart," featuring lines like "Nervous children making millions: you owe it all to them/Power trios with big-ass deals: you opened for it then," and "For a start take two Grant Harts & call me when you die." Whoa. Add that to Joan Jett's new sendup of "Love is All Around," and we've got a Hüsker Dü mini-revival. Coming from Seattle, the Posies are, if anything, aligned with the pop part of the Hüsker equation. (These are the guys who played in the reunion lineup of Big Star, remember?) Support band Velocity Girl are popcrafters on an equal level, and this 6 p.m. show begins with Lucky Me. All ages. $7/$9 at the door. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-8388. (Groebner)
TRUE BELIEVERS AND Rank and File were fine, thanks, but the work Alejandro Escovedo has been producing since he left those bands is truly something to be reckoned with. He'll be in town this Thursday with songs from With These Hands (Rykodisc), maybe his strongest record to date, which features lush, romantic pop-rock graced with haunting string and wind arrangements (the last time I saw this guy, he was working with a full-on big band) and appearances by Austin neighbor Willie Nelson and niece Sheila E. (who may even be around tonight; who knows?). Opening is Cheri Knight, ex- of the groundbreaking, hard-rocking alt-country outfit The Blood Oranges (whose fine back catalog, along with Knight's impressive solo outing, The Knitter, is available on local-based indie ESD). Warming things up for Knight and Escovedo will be Seth Hogan & The Buck Fifty Boys, featuring smokin' John Casey violinist Eric Christopher. I've yet to see 'em live, but their self-titled cassette showcases a nifty little outfit that sounds like an unlikely cross between The Pogues and Son Volt ($7. 7th Street Entry, 701 First Avenue N., Mpls.; 338-8388).
Speaking of Son Volt, Jay Farrar and Co. will convene for two shows Monday (ID show, music at 9 p.m.) and Tuesday (all ages, music at 6 p.m.) at the First Avenue mainroom. Get your tickets early, and get to the club early to catch the legendary Michael Hurley, who is responsible--along with Holy Modal Rounder Peter Stampfel--for the stoner-folk classic Have Moicy! back in '76. (This alt-mountain music thing ain't new news, kids.) Now in his fourth decade as a performer, Hurley continues to put out wonderfully demented, post-psychedelic hillbilly music; his recent Wolfways (Koch) remakes some of his snockgrass classicks and tosses some new stuff in too, making it a perfect introduction. Having already brought the soulful Gillian Welch (who some of us here are quite fond of) on the first leg of their tour, SV deserve props for lending their fans' ears to some great talent. ($10/$12 at the door both nights.)
Sunday is an all-nighter for alternative rock fans, with both newcomers and trailblazers crowding local stages. This critic's main mission will be to see Come, who rebound from the loss of drummer Arthur Johnson and bassist Sean O'Brien with maybe their strongest and most focused record to date, Near Life Experience (Matador), a muscular, haunting session of postmodern blues-rock which finds Thalia Zadek and guitarist-cum-vocalist Chris Brokaw sounding like some '90s version of The Patti Smith Group. (And as Patti isn't planning a trip to the Twin Cities anytime soon, we must all get on with our lives.) Replacing Johnson and O'Brien for the tour will be bassist Tara Jane O'Neill (of our beloved Retsin) and drummer Kevin Coultas (of the Rachels and--along with O'Neill--the late, lamented Rodan). To further confuse matters, O'Neill and Coultas open for Come with their new band The Sonora Pine, whose self-titled debut moves through fragile pump-organ laments, moody violin melodies, and wiry guitar tradeoffs. Also wiry, if louder, are local rockers Dwindle, who start things off. All-ages show (doors at 4 p.m.) and ID show (doors at 8 p.m.) are at 7th Street Entry, while in the mainroom, erstwhile Kurt Cobain collaborator and Northwest post-punk stalwart Mark Lanegan leads Screaming Trees on another bid for the overground success they've long deserved. If their upcoming Dust--a positively majestic rock record steeped in baroque '60s psychedelia and '70s pop-rock--doesn't do the job, I may just get out of this business altogether. (P.S.--this gig is their last before joining this summer's Lollapalooza tour.) Sweden's roaring Salt--who never did much for me but whose Auscultate (Island) gets the nod from a lot of my pals--and the buzzy 3 Lb. Thrill open. (All ages; music at 5:30 p.m. $10/$12 at the door.)
Finally, one of the year's most durably uplifting pop records has got to be The Wallflowers' latest, Bringin Down The Horse. Jakob Dylan has borne his demigod bloodlines with noble humility and good-natured perseverance; check out the inside straight of delectable songs on Horse, including the infectiously brisk and unremittingly catchy "One Headlight," the husky ballad "Three Marlenas," the vulnerable "Josephine" (quickly followed by the jangly, Mott The Hoople-flavored "God Don't Make Lonely Girls"), the romantic anthem "Angel On My Bike"--and the one currently getting all the video play, "6th Avenue Heartache." The other three members of the band aren't too shabby either. Dog's Eye View headlines. $6/$8 at the door. Saturday, 7 p.m. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-8388.
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