For years, decades, ages, epochs, music journalists have been writing articles declaring that Rock Is Dead -- but it ain't, my friends. The underground rock scene, in particular, hawks up good stuff on practically a daily basis, and less adventurous stuff is still selling in sizable numbers: Of America's ten favorite recordings, according to Billboard's April 21 edition, at least three of them (by Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and Limp Bizkit, respectively) rock to one degree or another. But mainstream rock -- the type of rock that gets played on Top 40 radio stations -- is another story, as the nation's top-selling CD, the singles compilation Now That's What I Call Music! 6, demonstrates with brutal clarity. Not only is Music! capable of making you wish that this stuff really was dead, but it may convince you that snuffing it out would constitute a mercy killing -- because the teeny pop and machine-tooled R&B on the disc kick rock's ass.
No, I'm not kidding. Britney Spears's "Stronger," the opening track, rocks about as hard as any rock song here and is a hell of a lot more distinctive than most of them -- and given that "Stronger" is followed by "Gotta Tell You," by Samantha Mumba, a Britney soundalike, that's saying plenty. Fuel's "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)" is so generic that it should be packaged in a white wrapper and stamped with the slogan, "Suitable for Everyday Use"; Coldplay's "Yellow" sounds like Radiohead by way of Gilbert O'Sullivan; and if Incubus's "Drive" misses a rock cliché, it's not for want of trying. And that's not to mention the dreadful "With Arms Wide Open," in which Creed lead singer Scott Stapp proves once and for all that he sounds like Eddie Vedder because he is Eddie Vedder; the Stapp disguise allows Eddie to make some real money while appearing not to sell out. Meanwhile, the veteran acts on hand substitute homage for inspiration. Everclear's "AM Radio" is a salute to the '60s, Lenny Kravitz's "Again" could have been recorded in the '70s, and U2's "Beautiful Day" deserved to win three Grammys in 1985, not 2001. The term "modern rock" is getting funnier by the minute.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not denying that ATC's "Around the World (La La La La La)," with a hook that goes (surprise) "La la la la la," and Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me," replete with its references to (censored version) "love on the bathroom floor," are stupid. They are -- energetically so, the way certain hits have always been stupid. But when you hear them on the radio ten or twenty years from now, you'll recognize them and smile, just as you do today when you hear "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" or "Rock Me, Amadeus" or "Baby Got Back." And the rock songs? You probably won't remember a single note.
Mainstream rock doesn't die. It just fades away.