And even the album cover is hideously generic
One of the funny things about reality TV contest-shows is that the prizes hardly ever mean much of anything. American Idol has managed to produce a couple of genuine pop stars, but it’s the highest-rated show on TV; it shouldn’t even be a question whether or not Ruben Studdard or Taylor Hicks will make it as honest-to-God stars when everyone already knows who they are and millions of people liked them enough to send text-message votes to Fox. The winner of the first season of America’s Next Top Model married someone from The Brady Bunch and had a reality show on VH1 about their wedding; I don’t know what’s happened to any of the others. Miranda Lambert, my favorite country star right now, finished third on one season of Nashville Star, but I don’t watch the show, and I can’t name a single winner even though I’m pretty sure I saw one of them live last year (edit: yup). None of the people who won Tough Enough ever really made it as WWE stars. The people who compete on these shows talk about seizing their moments and making all of their dreams come true, but they’re more famous as contestants on these shows than they’ll ever be when their season finishes its run, whether they win or not. And still, thousands upon thousands of people audition to become contestants on every ridiculous reality show. It never ends.
Around the same time as this year’s season of Rock Star was finally winding up to its big conclusion, Epic Records dropped INXS. INXS had used the show to pick their new singer, JD Fortune, in 2005. They’d had a high-rated TV show and a couple of big tours, but none of it mattered. Nobody cared enough to buy their album, and so they’ve effectively disappeared now. Last week, Rock Star Supernova’s first album debuted at #101 on the Billboard charts. Dave Navarro, the show’s cohost, ranted on his blog about Epic’s lack of promotion for the album: “The Supernova record is out today. Does ANYONE know about that?” Of course, this band has already had its own TV show, and it seems completely ridiculous to bitch about their lack of exposure. But he’s right: I had no idea the album was out. And I didn’t much care.
Rock Star Supernova’s debut album is a pretty good argument against rock-by-committee; it might be the blandest, most anonymous album I’ve heard all year. The band picked squatty growler Lukas Rossi as its singer, and Rossi does have an impressive voice, a gargle-caw that occasionally flares up into a delicate falsetto. But he never betrays much emotional connection to the stuff he sings; even “Headspin,” the song he wrote for his mom and debuted on the show, is a generic grunge churn with thoroughly personality-free lyrics: “All I want to say is you’re the satellite in my life / So you don’t have to lie and you don’t have to cry anymore.”
But the album’s total lack of distinction isn’t really Rossi’s fault; Nina Simone could be singing this stuff and I’d still forget the songs as soon as they ended. “Headspin” is on the Supernova album, but Rossi only gets co-writing credits on three other songs. This album was already well into production before they picked him, and the songs themselves actively resist attention. The album isn’t bad exactly, only one song (“Social Disgrace,” which sounds like Seven Mary Three with guest vocals from Holy Wood-era Marilyn Manson) really registers as terrible. The rest of it is just total session-musician snooze-button hash. On the show, Jason Newsted said something about how he and Tommy Lee and Gilby Clarke wanted to get away from the heaviness of their other bands, to draw people in instead of scaring them off. If record sales are any indication, though, Metallica and Motley Crue and Guns N Roses drew plenty of people in. So these guys have all willfully bleached out any of the quirks or signatures that made them famous in the first place. They’ve given us radio-targeted rock with extremely glossy production and relentless compression and weirdly dancey bridges on most of the songs. There’s a whole lot of mid-70s glam influence evident here: chanted choruses, handclaps, cowbell. “Leave the Lights On” is a particularly blatant Marc Bolan bite. But the band’s biggest influence seems to be Spacehog, the mid-90s New York fuzzpop one-hit wonders, which is weird, since I hadn’t thought about that band in years.
Supernova’s uberslick post-grunge aesthetic is still capable of producing actual hits in the ringtone age: just look at the out-of-nowhere success of Hinder’s dickhead-angst power-ballad “Lips of an Angel.” But “Lips of an Angel” has an actual hook. If you could say the same thing about this Supernova album, maybe a few more people would’ve realized that it existed. A TV show just isn’t enough.