It’s the craven new world of multimedia: Interactive rock & roll isn’t even two years old and already it’s encrusted with cliches. CD-ROMs like (Prince) Interactive and, to a greater extent, Jump: The David Bowie Interactive CD-ROM send users clicking down endless hallways on meaningless scavenger hunts, offering rewards that seem more functions of marketing than entertainment.
I suppose it makes sense, given the copycat mentality that rules pop music. Your average ponytailed record executive probably has a CD-ROM drive in his office but hasn’t played with it since he gave up on Myst. He also probably has a stable of aging rock & roll acts with time on their hands and a desperate need to seem relevant again. So it’s natural for him to hire a hot software design team and put out a shiny platter loaded with decision trees and “repurposed” MTV videos.
Somehow, this always results in a mixing board, the most pointless bit of “interactivity” yet devised. Peter Gabriel’s Xplora 1 was one of the first CD-ROMs to let you fiddle with the volume of individual instruments by nudging on-screen controls, and Todd Rundgren’s No World Order CD-i took the concept to loony heights. Both the [Prince] and Bowie discs offer this glorified-equalizer tactic, but do you really need to hear Al B. Sure!’s guest vocals on Bowie’s “Black Tie White Noise” without the rest of the band? Or [Prince]’s “Race” without drums?
In its favor, (Prince) Interactive is imbued with the goofball carnality that “the artist formerly known as Prince has made his turf. In short, it’s dopey but fun. The disc breaks no new ground with its haunted-mansion structure; you wander through corridors and rooms, trying to discover pieces of that darn [Prince] glyph so you can get a look at an as-yet-unreleased music video. I know: big whoop. But the graphics are luscious, the six music videos are an unexpected plus, and there are laughs to be had if you click on everything. (See if you can find where [Prince] hides the [Prince] whips in the [Prince] bedroom.) Will you play it more than twice? Doubtful. Will you have a blast showing it to your friends? Definitely.
Don’t show your friends Jump unless you want to brag about getting ripped off. Where Interactive takes hours to finish and attempts to offer a career overview, Bowie’s CD-ROM skips the ch-ch-changes and rehashes videos and songs from his drab 1993 Black Tie White Noise album. You get to remix a song, reedit a video, see behind-the-scenes photos, and tap into a howlingly pretentious set of interviews in which Bowie spouts puffery like “It’s the texture of the song that matters.” A press kit by any other name, Jump has a few playful point-and-click touches, but they’re buried under a sludge pile of waxen earnestness.
Ultimately, both of these CD-ROMs are plain old ego trips disguised as diversions — and in Bowie’s case, the disguise is threadbare. If there’s genuinely fresh work to be created in this maybe medium, it won’t be coming from rockers looking for a hip replacement. Jump: D