By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
The Rembrandts. This combo was the perfect choice to provide the soundtrack to the TV series Friends; like the show, the Rembrandts please by offering up minor, pleasantly innocuous variations on formulas that were hackneyed before Milton Berle bought his first frock. The band's Everly Brothers-cum-Romantics ditties are perfect for VH1. They give the illusion of freshness with no unexpected aftertaste.
Seal. Seal recalls Eighties, rather than pre-Eighties, inspirations--in his case, the more commercial offerings of latter-day Peter Gabriel and Roxy Music. But he renders these sounds even more palatable by ensuring that no rough edges remain to jar listeners from a state of complacency. The result is something akin to the least intriguing ambient music--it's so smooth that it practically ceases to exist.
The list certainly doesn't end there. For instance, there's the previously mentioned Hootie, the top seller in the nation prior to the latest release by Selena, whose People-magazine-friendly murder has given her the usual career boost. Clearly, the band has hit home with all those people who really miss Huey Lewis and the News. Melissa Etheridge has gotten a boost, too, even though her music--she sounds like a cross between Janis Joplin and Bryan Adams--is about as distinctive as your average Wal-Mart.
These artists and their contemporaries are presented to the public by pacifying personalities like VH1's Robin Dorian, who seems to be operating under direct orders to hide any vestiges of vibrancy behind an immobile smile and a wardrobe straight off the shelves at Eddie Bauer (the entire VH1 staff resembles cast members from a yuppified remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Key VH1 program blocks are equally trite. The Big 80's plays many of the videos that MTV pounded into the ground ten years ago (e.g., anything by Duran Duran). 8-Track Flashback retreats even further, to the years between 1970 to 1982; acts in the spotlight range from Fleetwood Mac to Donna Summer. Morning Music Wire, meanwhile, is a Today show surrogate in which soft news and horoscope readings are interspersed with your favorite Dire Straits video, while Four on the Floor allows four music critics to pontificate ad nauseam on issues of the day. And artist features, in which a single band or performer is made the focus of prime-time coverage for an entire week, are cropping up with ever-increasing regularity. This programming is the perfect sop to record companies such as Epic, which saw a week's worth of VH1 puff pieces on Michael Jackson power History: Past, Present and Future, Book 1, his new CD set, to the top of the charts. More so than Diane Sawyer's chat with Jackson and his wife, Lisa Marie Presley, the VH1 nostalgia-fest (a treasure trove of videos made before the Gloved One transformed himself into a ringer for Audrey Hepburn) helped America temporarily forget all those sleep-overs he had with prepubescent boys at the Neverland Ranch.
That VH1's brand of entertainment is proving so persuasive suggests that the music scene is in a very dreary period. Fortunately, the appearance of a new and compelling style will likely sweep aside the stultifying fodder that VH1 has flogged into the latest big thing. But until then, you'll have to live with all those Blowfishes. Unless, that is, you change the channel.