White House Music

Now that Skinny Elvis has his stamp, Fat Elvis has ascended into the White House, and Saddam Hussein has so graciously consented to single-handedly reversing CNN's ratings slump, the time has finally come to refocus our nation's awesome problem-solving skills on a deeper dilemma, one that threatens to lower the standard of living for our children and our children's children if appropriate and decisive action is not taken. This is not about finding a cure for AIDS, cutting the budget deficit, or ending famine in the Third World.

Fat Elvis has seventeen-point programs to address each of those headaches. What we're looking at here is more insidious, a virulent malaise that has infected the music-buying public worldwide, a creeping pestilence that costs billions of dollars annually and permanently enfeebles those who have failed to steel themselves to the onslaught ahead of time. It is called Echno Music, and it has become an international plague.

One of the problems the scientific and medical communities face when they confront a nascent malady is that of quantification. You know you've got a nasty disease on your hands, but how do you gauge the magnitude of the metastasis? In the case of Echno Music, the researchers at the Centers for Disease Control turn to that trusted music-industry dipstick, the Billboard charts.

Even a cursory glance at a recent U.S. album chart Top 10 is enough to lead one to conclude that Echno-blight has become a pervasive scourge, as ubiquitous as any fungus:

1) The year's lamest big-budget film, The Bodyguard, begat the year's lamest soundtrack recording, featuring the year's most annoying single, sung by the year's most over-hyped pop prima donna (in her long-feared motion picture debut) to a passionless lump of an actor with the worst haircut in recent cinematic history.

2) The blue-eyed butcher strikes again! In Timeless (The Classics) Michael Bolton cynically debases an entire album's worth of classic R&B while simultaneously imbuing the words "overwrought" and "soulless" with unprecedented depth and intricacy. And he didn't stress a single tress.

3) Garth Brooks, a cherubic country boy who openly admits that his influences include insipid Echno-rock dinosaurs like Styx and Kansas, sets his grocery list to a generic country beat and mines triple-platinum with The Chase.

4) Some Gave All their damn money to Billy Ray Cyrus, sort of a buffed Garth with better hair and poorer taste (if that's possible). Now some may give him a Grammy for the putrescent pop puff that album spawned.

5) Amy Grant goes Home for Christmas. Unfortunately, it wasn't a silent night.

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6) The cruelest irony of them all. Eric Clapton cashes in on the yuppie-appeasement sweepstakes with Unplugged, which rides into the Top 10 on the desecration of one of (if not the) greatest rock songs of all time. If it serves no other purpose, at least Unplugged proves once and for all that heroin addicts make better music. Does anybody remember when the nickname "Slowhand" was supposed to be ironic?

7) Not many people were aware of it, but A Very Special Christmas 2 was rife with behind-the-scenes controversy revolving around the use of the Roman Numeral "II" versus the traditional "2" in the album title. Reportedly, members of the group Boyz II Men were also pushing for "Christmaz."

8) Neil Diamond -- Neil Diamond, for chrissakes -- releases a Christmas album. What next, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Talmud album featuring "Hava Nagila"?

9) Kenny G. Breathless. We should be so lucky.
10) The country cherub again. Beyond the Season disappoints by merely going double platinum. Incredibly, Garth Brooks has four albums concurrently in the Top 35. It's a sorry state of affairs when there are more Garth Brooks albums on the streets of this nation than there are unregistered handguns.

As if the American charts weren't alarming enough, there's the top album in Great Britain, Cher's Greatest Hits: 1965-1992. And if that doesn't make you feel a tic in your wrist as you eye the straight razor, consider Cher's company in the British Top 10: ABBA, Bolton, a Freddie Mercury compilation, Genesis live. We're talking global smarming.

Echno Music is not a new phenomenon, but it used to primarily afflict Anglo musicians. Twenty years ago, for every "I Am Woman," "Clair," or "Ventura Highway" there was a "Me and Mrs. Jones," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," or "I Can See Clearly Now." The qualitative difference was pronounced. But now, thanks to crossover (i.e., white-sounding, sexless, non-threatening) artists like Ms. Houston and Michael Jackson, Echno has spanned racial and ethnic boundaries.

And the future just looks bleaker and bleaker. Any hopes that the first baby-boom president would provide Echno relief were brutally dashed when the list of performers at Fat Elvis's inauguration was obtained by New Times (see sidebar). Yes, Michael Bolton and Boyz II Men will be there. And Fleetwood Mac, of course.

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