Vince McMahon pile-drives the music industry with WWE Originals.

Turnbuckles and Turntables 

Vince McMahon pile-drives the music industry with WWE Originals.

It must have been a trap.

It was like locking Rush Limbaugh inside a pharmacy or hiring R. Kelly to be the night watchman for Sister Chastity's School For Preteen Supermodels.

It isn't often that three cherries align in my mind's slot machine. But there it was. Ding! Ding! Ding! Twelve original tracks performed by stars of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., the societal lamprey spawned by Vince McMahon, that tall drink of testosterone responsible for bringing WWE Raw and SmackDown! to trailer parks everywhere.

Music writers enjoy petting musicians with platitudes when the mood strikes. But their eyes go blood-red, their skin turns sickly green and their bristling muscles rip through their obscure band T-shirts when the scent of a truly horrid record hits the water. And a WWE album?

The sordid soap opera of professional wrestling ranks just above NASCAR and just below carnivals in the race to siphon all faith in humanity. It's a cheap beer commercial come to life. A world of misogyny and masochism that makes feeding Christians to the lions seem like sophisticated sport.

This was hardly the first time a professional wrestler had taken a wrong turn at GNC and ended up in a recording studio. Once, the Rock added Cro-Magnon chops to Wyclef Jean's "It Doesn't Matter," and indeed, you could smell what the Rock was cooking a mile away. But WWE Originals promised to be a supersized shit sandwich.

Then something happened on the way to the Diarrhea Deli. I listened to the album. My smirk melted. Song after song crashed sledgehammers through the drywall of my mind. And when the asbestos cloud settled, I had a revelation:

WWE Originals is the century's most important album.

You heard me.

That's not to say it's any good. In fact, it's so awful that it will induce laughter, nausea and premature labor in some expectant mothers. We are talking about a record that features an off-his-meds Alpha Male named Booker T chortling, From giants to midgets, can you dig it?/Larger than life, but it's no movie/I'm the true master of the spinaroonie.

Kurt Angle puts in his two centimes with the tongue-in-cheek "I Don't Suck (Really)." Of course, he does suck. Really. The song sounds like a knuckle-dragging jock reading verbatim from a book report and features mind-numbing lines such as Anything you can do, I can do better/Even when I rap, I rap more better delivered with Missing Link articulation.

No, this album is abysmal. But it's also much more.

Ever since the direct ancestors of WWE wrestlers grew bored with scrawling on cave walls and munching on mastodon, there's been somebody to make crude music and somebody to dismiss it as pop flop. Critics criticize. Consumers consume. Cynics lambaste no-talent hacks and blood-sucking record companies, and the masses shrug and buy Clay Aiken's latest anyway.

Until now. That's because WWE Originals is The One. It is the Rosetta stone for understanding the malicious marionettes who create freeze-dried laissez-faire fare for public consumption.

Entertainment is escapism. Average people don't spend their free time deconstructing socialism, pondering county zoning laws, reading Ulysses or listening to Kid A. They want instant gratification. Pleasure. Release. Some people use drugs. Some use church. Some use the Chiefs. Some listen to Hillary Duff.

But leave it to an entity that traffics in big-scale smoke and mirrors to reveal the frail wizard working the levers of mighty Oz. The WWE sells escapism efficiently. McMahon's Okie opera is worth billions. WWE is traded on the stock market. Each wrestler is trademarked. There are ticket sales. Television contracts. Pay-per-view. Merchandising.

The WWE knows that you know that it knows that it is extorting you. Beneath the chaotic facade is a wily sense of humor. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is winking at you as he travels whatever beer-chugging, bone-breaking plot line his handlers have constructed for him. It's staged, it's rigged and nobody cares.

Meanwhile, the music business owns the most dour poker face in history. Is $19.95 too much to charge for Wang Chung's greatest hits? Surely you jest.

The music industry vehemently pretends to be an upscale buffet when it's really the Over 65 menu at Denny's on double-coupon Tuesdays.

Now, though, that nefarious plot has been exposed. And those who bemoan the corporate conspiracy to charge for filet mignon and serve gristle have one man to thank.

Take a bow, Jim Johnston.

Johnston is the übermensch of WWE Originals. The producer, engineer, writer, musician and maestro who transformed muscle-bound meatheads into musicians. He makes the songs surprisingly adequate by garnishing them with untold layers, samples, echoes, effects, backing vocals, instrumentals and anything else that might minimize collateral damage caused by the "talent."

What comes out is proof that anyone can make a star with the right recipe and appliances. Pour in a prebaked crust. Add breasts or pectorals to taste. Heat to 350 degrees. Remove and cool. Serve to the unwitting populace for $14.99 a pop.

For that, listeners get coquettish sex-kitten songs. Smooth ballads. Electronic dance numbers. Pseudo-punk tunes. The convincing rap-metal of the Dudley Boyz and a Chris Jericho performance that hearkens to the Aqua Net days of metal. Jericho knows he's a fraud. But he also knows you'll buy his con.

"My song will be the best and probably the worst as well, which is cool," Jericho says on the album's accompanying DVD. "I mean, the Sex Pistols, all their songs were terrible, and they made millions of dollars."

And so will the WWE.

It would be easy to dismiss the album as tripe. Indeed, many wrestling fans would buy used colostomy bags if their favorite stars autographed them. But McMahon has the last laugh copyrighted.

Last month, WWE Originals debuted at number 12 on Billboard's Top 200 chart.


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