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The Verve Pipe 

Underneath (RCA)

There's no difference between Fuel's "Bad Day," Creed's "With Arms Wide Open," and the Verve Pipe's 1997 hit, "The Freshman." Like a stroll through any new housing development, where every house has the same architecture, every yard the same landscaping, and every person the same high standard of mediocrity, all under the guise of having finally "made it," these bands and their music are the safe way to go. Each is an interchangeably bland substitute for what rock and roll once was. Back in the early '90s, the Verve Pipe set the standard for one of rock and roll's more ignoble characters: the sensitive, Abercrombie & Fitch rock guy. Underneath, the Lansing, Michigan band's fourth album, is merely a wildly popular reflection of the mind-numbingly dull consumer culture that values image over substance.

The stab at suave, Steely Dan-ish sophistication that leads the album off is a welcome opening move, but by the time it cops the guitar riff from Natalie Imbruglia's smash "Torn" for its solo, you aren't fooled anymore. It's at this point you start to smell the rat that roams most of pop music's gutter. But perhaps it's the smoldering silliness of "Miles Away" ("today was a great day/I said what I meant/today was the worst day I've ever spent/I'm trying to be what you want me to be") that best embodies the inanity of modern pop. On it, the Verve Pipe goes the easy route and doesn't even hint at having grown up. Make no bones about it: Underneath is sharply aimed, well done, expertly produced, pleasant, catchy, and pretty sophisticated-sounding stuff. It's also vacuous and extraordinarily pedestrian rock music. And that's exactly the problem.

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More by Kurt Hernon

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