THE CHARTS DO NOT LIE: the popularity of mainstream pop metal is eroding, with the bottom not yet apparent.

Bands that were sporting platinum-plus sales figures as little as a year ago are now finding that their fans have all but deserted them, preferring a ride on the “Seattle sound” bandwagon of Alice in Chains or Nirvana to going down with the ship that carries the likes of Warrant, Slaughter and Faster Pussycat.

New pop metal albums that fell far below sales expectations include “Dog Eat Dog” by Columbia’s Warrant; Great White’s “Psycho City” on Capitol; “Don’t Tread ,” the new one from Warner Bros. Damn Yankees; and, after promising bows, sophomore efforts by Chrysalis’ Slaughter and Elektra’s Faster Pussycat have slipped completely out of the Billboard 200.

The only pop metal bands that still seem to be having any success are Mercury’s Def Leppard, whose “Adrenalize” album is fast approaching quadruple platinum status, and Epic’s Firehouse, whose current single “When I Look Into Your Eyes” is Top 10.

So who killed Cock Robin? MTV, say two experts in the genre.

“The influence of the hard, Seattle-type music is so overwhelming because MTV is now geared towards that type of music,” says Lonn Friend, RIP magazine editor and metal columnist for Hits. “The buzz clip is an alternative track 98% of the time. Did you see Great White or Slaughter have a buzz clip? They’ve equated the buzz clip with edge-y, alternative music. Of course, if anybody can bring (pop metal) back, Bon Jovi can.”

Like history, music and musical trends will invariably repeat themselves, according to Bob Chiappardi, president of Concrete Marketing. But pop metal is now definitely on the downslope.

“It’s a big roller-coaster ride,” Chiappardi says. “This type of music will never completely go away. It’s a very suburban style of music and in suburbia it’s still going strong. The big thing that’s killing it, though, is MTV, because they’ve basically turned their backs on a lot of these bands. I don’t know if it’s fair or not because they (MTV) made it the monster that it was.”

MTV senior VP of music and talent relations John Cannelli says don’t blame the vidchannel — it’s the fans who have caused pop metal’s demise.

“It’s not a conscious effort on our part not to play these acts,” Cannelli says. “Our audience is very good at telling us what they like. In the case of Slaughter, we served up their last album and there was a feeding frenzy. It didn’t happen on their first video (this time), and to the same extent that’s true for Warrant.”

Cannelli notes that the marketplace is fragmenting, with crossover R&B, grunge metal, and rap pulling audiences at MTV. “As always, music is evolving and it’s a different landscape than it was two or three years ago.”

THERE’S BEEN SOME changes for Thomas Dolby in the four years since he last released a record. New label, new management, new approach to songwriting.

But what Dolby really wants is something old, a duplication of the success that shot his 1983 single “She Blinded Me With Science” into the U.S. Top 10.

Dolby calls his debut Giant Records album “Astronauts and Heretics””my best work, a moving personal record.” The album hits stores tomorrow, ending a four-year dry spell. Dolby was trimmed from EMI Records several years ago by former label president Sal Licata, who was warring with Dolby’s former manager, Allen Kovac.

The new work finds Dolby now writing songs in the first person, rather than the third, and having a more direct connection to the music, relying less on superfluous technology. “This is the time in my life to be myself,” he says, noting that much of the album’s material is autobiographical.

“This new album is definitely a radio programmer’s nightmare,” Dolby adds, predicting that the varied influences will attract those listeners who are “afraid of going to record stores because there’s nothing there for them.”

THEY HAVE MORE Grammys than the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Bruce Springsteen; have outsold most artists currently on the charts; and better still , they always agree with their boss.

Alvin, Simon and Theodore, aka the Chipmunks, are back in the recording business for the first time in 10 years, capitalizing on the country music boom with “Chipmunks In Low Places,” an album made in collaboration with such stars as Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Aaron Tippin, Tammy Wynette and Waylon Jennings. The Chipmunk Records/Epic album is No. 101 this week on the Billboard 200, up from last week’s No. 128.

Ross Bagdasarian Jr. (whose father created the cartoon characters) and his collaborator and wife, Janice Karman, made the decision to re-enter the music biz after the Chipmunks’ Saturday morning television show ended. “We wanted to bring them back in (music), which is what they were best known for,” Bagdasarian says, “and we saw that country had more variety than ever before.” Plus, the Chipmunks were already familiar with the genre, having released “Urban Chipmunk” in 1981 to ride the last country music boomlet.

The trick to capturing the Chipmunk sound? “Record the music first and then slow the tape speed down and sing at half-speed,” says Bagdasarian. “The trick is to stay on key and have some personality. My wife and I do a lot of (the vocals), but we also work with some other folks.”

A live Chipmunk country show will start next March, hitting amusement parks and other outdoor attracions.

JAMAICA-BORN Shabba Ranks has taken the lead in bringing dance hall music to the masses, a sound that combines the flowing smoothness of traditional reggae, the drum machine and heavy bass power of rap, and the lady-killer stylings of latter-day R&B.

Shabba Ranks (born Rexton Gordon) has hit with his second Epic album, “X-tra Naked,” charting at No. 78 on this week’s Billboard 200 album chart. Last year’s “As Raw As Ever” won a Grammy and was the first reggae-based album to top the Billboard R&B chart.

Eschewing the dreadlocked persona of admitted influences Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, Ranks chiseled good looks and pop leanings has led to comparisons with mainstream rapper Hammer, resulting in that dreaded accusation: “sellout.”

But Ranks jumps to his own defense. “Many say that Shabba has gone commercial. Well, my roots cannot go commercial. My skin color cannot go commercial. I still remain an African. I’ll say this for the world: I don’t care what they want to say. I only want to know that I’m always myself and I stick to my roots.” Epic is also treading cautiously, making sure that Ranks’ sales base in the Jamaican community is not compromised.

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