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'Misery' needs company

Soul asylum seeks to regain its old runaway success

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Is soul asylum’s runaway train headed backward?

A Columbia spokesman insists sales of Let Your Dim Light Shine — reported by SoundScan at 649,000 units after five months — are ”right on track” with expectations. But that’s about a third of what the band’s previous album did, and this one’s steady chart decline — to No. 128 this week — dims prospects for what was predicted to be one of 1995’s top rock albums. Cause for more concern is lackluster tour business: Not only have a lot of transients who jumped on the Top 40 ”Train” two years ago slipped off, but fans from Soul Asylum’s neo-punk days seem to be checking out en masse. ”We’re baffled,” says a source close to the group.

Less confused are some alterna-rock industry types, who cited ”Misery” — Soul Asylum’s slick power ballad — as the biggest blunder. ”Old fans viewed it as a sellout,” says a Hollywood tip sheet editor. Adds a friend and ex-business associate of the band’s, ”It was such a hack song, people were joking, ‘Is it White Lion or Winger?”’ Ouch.

Appearing blissful can be bad for business too. ”How much angst can Dave Pirner have when he’s dating everybody’s slacker dream, Winona Ryder, and she pursued him?” asks a modern-rock radio consultant. ”And wearing a tux to the Oscars is not very punk.” Nor was sacking the original drummer, Grant Young, for a proficient studio pro.

Shy of offering personnel or dating tips, those polled had some advice: Try a roots club tour, get some punky rave-ups on the radio, and lay off the Tom Petty-wannabe ballads.. But Columbia is opting for Top 40 gold over hep credibility. The next single is ”Promises Broken,” another ennui-packed ”Misery”-style moper.