Music

Not Fade Away

Mazzy Star and Radio's Wild Years

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TIME HAS BEEN KIND to Mazzy Star. The 17 years of silence that passed before the release of last month's comeback album, Seasons of Your Day, have preserved their legacy in amber. Since they faded (from view), Mazzy Star have become a primary point of reference for artists who dabble in hushed and understated dream-pop. Their lilting and forlorn 1993 hit "Fade into You" has aged well, its smoky blend of shoegaze and folk offering a songwriting template for scores of heartbroken introverts. But could "Fade into You" catch even a whiff of Top 40 radio if it'd come out at any other time?

You could ask the same of any radio hit—radio is always a reflection of current trends—but even in 1994 when it charted, "Fade into You" was a fluke. Other hits on Billboard's rock chart that year: "Basket Case" by Green Day, "Zombie" by the Cranberries, "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails. Gauzy dream-pop seems like strange company, but those are the songs with which "Fade into You" rubbed shoulders.

I suppose my real question is this: Is there even such a thing as a fluke hit anymore?

One of the only songs from the past several years that comes to mind is Psy's "Gangnam Style," which wasn't so much a song as a viral-video curiosity turned full-blown pop culture phenomenon. MGMT's "Kids" probably fits the bill as well. Otherwise, chart-toppers have never been easier to predict. Miley Cyrus debuted at number one after weeks of buzz-building "controversies," and shows like American Idol and The Voice have turned the hit-making machinery into entertainment in its own right. The shake-ups that led major labels to take bigger risks in the '90s have long since been fully absorbed and distilled, and now you can find a radio station called "The Buzz" playing "alternative rock" in every city. Gone are the days of Nevermind replacing Dangerous at the top of the charts.

Now the infamously introverted Mazzy Star have quietly released their first new album in more than a decade and a half, and they sound oblivious to anything that's happened in the interim. Hope Sandoval's voice still melts, slide guitar glides in and out of focus, and reverb is everywhere. The ingredients are simple and easily recognizable, but the recipe remains distinctly theirs. And while they might otherwise have been a footnote in the 20th century's last great pop culture upheaval, their sound has found favor with indie acts like Beach House and Widowspeak. You can even hear strains of it in Lana Del Rey.

But while the next generation of indie artists benefited from the unexpected reach Mazzy Star enjoyed, the current crop probably has no chance of lucking into a similar kind of fluke-y success. For one, the big labels that grease those wheels aren't looking to sign lesser-known underground acts for cred-inflating reasons like they were in the '90s. For another, radio playlists are a lot shorter.

In other words, if Beach House or Widowspeak end up on Z100, I'll eat my hat.

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