In the warp-speed and just plain warped world of the music industry, it seems as though Hootie and the Blowfish have already had at least three careers. First, the South Carolina band toured relentlessly and sold tapes out of its van, gaining an audience in the tens of thousands before ever signing to a major label. Then, in 1994, came Cracked Rear View, a strong set of poprock anthems that sold 15 million copies and made the group ubiquitous. The inevitable and oddly mean-spirited backlash kicked in soon after. In 1996 came the uncertain, somewhat defensive Fairweather Johnson, which, having sold a mere 2 million copies, was quickly adjudged the band's swan song.
Not so fast. Hootie are back and back in form. Musical Chairs will not unleash anything like the chart assault that Cracked did, but it's a far more relaxed and engaging effort than Johnson. Frontman Darius Rucker, guitarist Mark Bryan, bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim Sonefeld are not out to prove anything; they just sound as though they're having fun again. Rucker is essentially a soul singer and a good one which means that he bothers to hit the notes, avoids irony and isn't afraid to reach for big emotions. The band staunchly supports him, lifting him up on the surging choruses of "Only Lonely," "Home Again" and "What's Going On Here." Fresh musical touches horns, a string section and country-style arrangements turn up here and there. Hootie's formula and limited range of feeling do grow repetitious over the course of thirteen songs. But, taken individually as, say, you might hear them on the radio each song is eminently listenable. That may not bring this band immortality, but in popular music it's a virtue that shouldn't be so smugly dismissed. (RS 796)
(Posted: Sep 4, 1998)
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