POP REVIEW : Marky Mark Raps in Bubblegum Beat

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Vanilla Ice is the Pat Boone of rap, Marky Mark must be its Andy Gibb. The late Gibb was the kid brother of the Bee Gees; rappin' Marky is the younger sib of New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg.

In truth, unlike the younger Gibb, Marky Mark may actually be better than his brother's group. As shamelessly derivative and exploitative of other artists' work as it is, his recent debut album has a harder edge than anything the New Kids have ever done. And his concert at the Wiltern Theatre on Thursday had an element of loose elan that beats the New Kids robotic approach.

That doesn't mean Marky is artistically, or even culturally, significant. But it's easy to see the attraction of the young fans--many of them preteen girls--at the Wiltern, the same way you can understand earlier pop generations' youthful attraction to the likes of David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman and Gibb.

Sure, it's a different generation with different orientations--it's hard to imagine Cassidy, Sherman or Gibb going in for Marky's trademark of exposing his boxer shorts (replicas of which were on sale in the lobby for $26 a pair). But it's the same deal: bubblegum heartthrobbing at its bubbliest and throbbiest.

So it was only fair to give him a chance Thursday. And on a few points he delivered above and beyond the call of heartthrob duty. He seems to really want to be taken seriously. To that end he was wise to come with a real live six-piece band in tow, and a pretty good one at that, whipping up some lively Afro-Cuban funk. The band even did commendably, replacing what on record had been extended samples of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" (on the morality piece "Wildside") and the O'Jay's "For the Love of Money" (on the almost witty "I Need Money").

And Marky's playful routines with the three rappers/dancers in his Funky Bunch included some impressively athletic moves.

But Marky loses big on a few key points. First, he is totally void of original ideas. His most interesting songs are not only built from, but are virtual carbon copies or appropriations of others' work. He had so little to say that only 10 minutes into the show he was parting the audience for a screaming contest--which had already been done by the spunky female rap/soul quartet Ex-Girlfriend, which preceded Marky on the bill.

And worst, while he told the fans that "peace is the most important thing on Earth," he acted like it's his crotch that really is most important, frequently referring to or touching his private parts. One adult woman in the crowd remarked that even the 9-year-old girls expect that from their heroes today, but that doesn't make it a good idea.

But, judging by the comments of one preteen girl, Marky's young fans learned one valuable lesson Thursday: "These earplugs," the girl said, "are lifesavers!"

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