By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Unfortunately, that didn't fix one of Rolling Stone's most glaring weaknesses: biteless reviews. Critically, the mag is exhaustive but no more opinionated; even a negative two-star write-up issues qualifiers and caveats and kind words designed to soothe publicists just in case LeAnn Rimes' new record turns out to be a hit and a salivating/dunderheaded fashion spread is called for.
Equally disturbing is the "Oooh, Mick, Please Let Us Do Your Laundry" factor--certain "heritage" artists are more likely to spontaneously combust than endure a discouraging word from Rolling Stone. Thus, Bruce Springsteen gets a fawning cover and a once-rare five-star "classic" rating for The Rising, a feat of glad-handing that unfortunately pales compared with the five-star slobber treatment RS publisher Jann Wenner himself dribbled on Mick Jagger's truly awful solo bomb Goddess in the Doorway last year. We hope Mick liked your review, Jann. Until you stop caring about his opinion, it's hard to care about yours.
So you can count on a shirtless Keith Richards' prune-faced countenance gracing Rolling Stone's cover from time to time, just as you can count on the utter catastrophe that will befall our nation's collective libido as a result. The flip side of that equation is inevitable. The magazine delights in hunting down our society's most attractive and winsome young starlets (Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Love Hewitt) and slapping them on the cover in garish makeup seemingly applied by a drive-through car wash.
Sex sells, and Rolling Stone will always sell it. The mag has never looked sexy doing it, though, and loading another goddamn "Women in Rock" issue with tight-pants cheesecake shots of Britney Spears and Shakira will result only in high-pitched hoots of derision and Joan Jett's foot up your ass.
But we're used to all that. Instead, media critics intent on savaging Needham's maiden RS voyage lashed out at the "good ol' boy with a giant boner" strain that instantly infected the mag's writing. "Public Enemy No. 1" was a story from the Vines issue described on the cover as "Bound, Gagged and Loving It," in which a writer engaged the services of a yuppie business that literally kidnaps you and subjects you to all sorts of physical/mental/sexual anguish, the details of which you specify ahead of time. Published responses ranged from amused (" ...likely marks the first time the phrase 'big black dildo' has appeared on that page twice") to enraged ("one of the stupidest, most worthless pieces of journalism you'll ever read in a national magazine").
Rolling Stone will always roll starlets through the hoochie makeup car wash and mindlessly chase musical trends (the Vines indeed) and slap George W. around mercilessly with its ultrabiased political coverage. It's this sort of big-black-dildo-waving prurience that critics fear will characterize the Needham Era. But what's truly telling about the infamous kidnapping story is the magazine it really should've appeared in.
The Sneering Contender: "Bound, Gagged and Loving It" undeniably felt like a Maxim piece. Financially, that's a compliment. Maxim is without question the industry success story of the past decade, a literal men's magazine empire that shoots from the hip and aims at the boobs. It's the Official Magazine for Dudes, which means celebrity babes in bikinis on the cover and all manner of guy stuff (sports, beer, gadgets, wise-ass jokes, what-the-hell-is-that-about features and more celebrity babes in bikinis) on the pages within. Crass and base as it is, it has cleared the way for a virtually identical spin-off title (Stuff) and--yes, indeed--a music mag. Blender's the name, and it's the hottest competition in town, right down to its own Aguilera cover shot.
Two things become immediately apparent upon cracking open Blender. First of all, it closely resembles, both in design and attitude, the two British mags that most true music snobs turn to when they get sick of Rolling Stone: Q and Mojo. Second, a mere 12 issues into the game, Blender has exacted a similar influence on its own American competition. Shorter articles? Smarmy picture captions? Flashy, almost childlike graphics? Gimmicky features? (Blender recently surveyed "The Most Disastrous Albums of All Time," declaring Mariah Carey's Glitter the winner.) Exhaustive review sections? The general feeling that this whole magazine was written and produced during an all-night frat party? If Blender stole its game from Q and Mojo, the regal Rolling Stone-Spin guard is now liberally stealing from it.
Which is a wee bit disconcerting. Sure, November's Blender cover story is really a salivating, dunderheaded LeAnn Rimes fashion spread. But the "disastrous albums" thing is pretty great, and these clowns are actually serious when they present "33 Things You Should Know About Tori Amos." Factor in the Mother of All Review Sections (240 discs addressed, including, for no apparent reason, every solo CD John Lennon ever made), and Blender proves it can slap a topless LeAnn Rimes on the cover and still behave as intelligently, creatively and respectably as any of its "professional" competition.
The whole Maxim-Blender empire allegedly consists of drooling, boob-obsessed, knuckle-dragging jock idiots. Now they've got the big boys running scared. What the hell is going on here?
The Nerds: Perhaps the old guard has gotten too intellectual for its own good. Here's what Spin has to say about the new DMX tune "Fuck Y'All Niggaz": "The fact that we're not playing this every hour on the hour is disturbing. Should be a total no-brainer, except that it's a total no-brainer (not in a good way)."