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Inside Move: Blender whirring strong

Mag shows muscle with spin & skin cocktail

NEW YORK — When music magazine Blender debuted early last year, it had the chops. But it also had timing issues.

The ad market was, as Motley Crue would put it, a Theater of Pain. The music industry was in retreat.

The new bimonthly from U.K. publishing magnate Felix Dennis would have to compete for ad pages with Rolling Stone and Spin. And it seemed destined to scavenge for the scraps with other hungry startups: Q, published in Britain by nemesis Emap, seemed poised for a U.S. launch, and MTV was rumored to be bowing its own title.

But like its brother pubs Maxim and Stuff, Blender quickly found success with its deeply decolletaged cover subjects and smart-ass charm.

This summer, Blender’s frequency will be juiced from six times a year to 10. Mag outsells biweekly Rolling Stone and monthly Spin combined on the newsstand. And Q and MTV’s mag still are nowhere to be seen.

Rolling Stone, which has a rate base of 1.25 million, sells just 160,000 copies on the stands. Blender, by contrast, has been selling 250,000 copies, perhaps accounting for the mag’s recent boost in circulation — from 250,000 to 350,000.

Helmed by Campbell and ex-Q editor Andy Pemberton, Blender looks like a half-sibling of Pemberton’s alma mater.

Often irreverent, sometimes puerile, deftly imaginative, Blender has found a loyal audience of men in their early 20s.

It doesn’t so much mock the musicians it interviews as it challenges them.

“It’s not mean or bitchy,” says 33-year-old editor Pemberton in the mag’s New York offices. “It’s more like ribbing a buddy at the bar.”

It has featured a comic-strip re-enactment of REM guitarist Peter Buck’s alleged drunk-and-disorderly behavior on an airplane, as well as a list of the filthiest lyrics of all time, reviewed by, among others, “Crossfire’s” bowtied Tucker Carlson and Jane Bernhard, president of the New York State Parent Teacher Assn.

This month’s issue, with “The Osbournes” on the cover (Rolling Stone had its own recent feature on the MTV phenom, but Blender got to the family earlier for an exclusive), headlines, “We have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll and (Gulp!) it’s two teenage ‘lesbians’ from Moscow.” (Tatu, a band that features two pseudo-sapphic girls, is all the rage in Russia.)

Pemberton insists it’s the 140-odd reviews each issue that are Blender’s greatest strength.

“It’s that compendiousness,” he says. “It gives the magazine its authority. When magazines say that they’re going to choose the 10 best albums each month, it’s a cop-out, really.”