Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Even Subtle Christian Undertones Don't Spoil Cracked Rear View By Hootie And The Blowfish!

The Good: Good vocals, Decent lyrics, Fun instrumentals
The Bad: Short, A few weaker tracks/lines
The Basics: Simple and fun, Cracked Rear View reminds the listener just how fun lines about misery can truly be!

Some part of me fantasizes - occasionally - about having regular readers who follow my many reviews who might see me going through an artist's repertoire and when I near the end of it say, "I wonder who W.L. will get immersed in next?" After a few days of trudging through the works of Massive Attack, I was in the mood for something fun. So, I returned to my late high school and early college days and the music of Hootie and the Blowfish. It's about time I actually listened to some of their c.d.s. So, I started at the beginning with Cracked Rear View.

So, there are two observations I have right off the bat with Cracked Rear View: it still rocks in a light, fun, pop-rock way and how do we define "Christian rock?!" I ask this latter question because god and angels pop up on a number of tracks (sure, angels appear in the Old Testament, but it seems the Evangelicals and not so much the Jews run around talking about angels in their lives) and there are a number of popular Christian Rock artists who try to go mainstream by putting out singles that don't highlight their Christian Rock emphasis, but then stick that track on an album that is largely CR - LifeHouse, I'm looking at you! Yeah, if it wasn't for No Name Face (reviewed here!) I probably wouldn't be so sensitive about it. But Hootie And The Blowfish does seem to have a much more spiritual side to it. Perhaps, I'll just consider this "subtle Christian undertones" (in the words of Robot Chicken), shrug and accept that there is no real agenda to songs like "Running From An Angel" and "I'm Goin' Home." After all, it takes some serious staying power with a song to get me to sing (terrible voice!) yet when I began spinning Cracked Rear View, I was filled with a wholesome sense of happiness the moment "Hold My Hand" began. Good times, good times.

With only eleven (and a tiny bit more) tracks, clocking in at 46:45, Cracked Rear View made for a pretty impressive debut by Hootie And The Blowfish, a quartet of men from Columbia, South Carolina who rocked the pop-rock world in the mid-nineties with a very simple, direct, vocally-driven sound that resonated with virtually everyone who heard them. Cracked Rear View had four radio-played successful singles and made Darius Rucker a household name for a time. All four men are credited with the writing on the album, Rucker provides lead vocals and the members all play instruments. As well, supporting vocals are essential to songs like "Hannah Jane" and "Hold My Hand," so it's not like the group slouches just because Rucker takes lead vocals! The only creative aspect the band is not credited with on this album is in the production department. Still, it is hard to argue that this is not their musical vision.

And largely, it's a very successful, enjoyable musical vision for anyone who likes pop-rock. The songs are guitar, bass, drum tracks with deep vocals from Darius Rucker. Rucker sings clearly, often supported by the other band members with vocals that sound like well-practiced a cappella group with instruments (yes, I know a cappella is without instruments, but that level of synchronisity that an a cappella group has is often lacking from garage bands). Instrumentally, the songs tend to be simple pop-rock tunes with catchy tunes, memorable refrains and strategic crescendos.

Lyrically, Hootie And the Blowfish had all of the elements for a successful album with their largely feel-good lyrics. No, it's not that, because reading their lyrics, Cracked Rear View is a morbid collection of songs about young love torn apart by parents ("Look Away"), emotional manipulation ("Let Her Cry") and being ravaged by age ("Time"). There are songs about the destructive nature of racism ("Drowning") and losing love ("Goodbye"), so it's not that the lyrics are at all feel-good. But Hootie and the Blowfish make terrible themes and wrenching lines sound oh-so-good.

So, when we hear "Yesterday, I saw you standing there / Your head was down, your eyes were red / No comb had touched your hair / I said get up, and let me see you smile / We'll take a walk together / Walk the road awhile, 'cause / 'Cause I've got a hand for you / I've got a hand for you / 'Cause I wanna run with you / Won't you let me run with you? yeah / Hold my hand" ("Hold My Hand") we almost forget that the narrator never gets his satisfaction. "Hold My Hand" is one person crying out to let them rescue the other, but the other never responds. At the end of the song, the musical narrator is standing, hand outstretched waiting to support, but we never find out if the subject of that desire turns and takes the hand! Anyone with experience knows that you can love someone to death; it's nothing if they don't reciprocate or let you act upon it.

Even Hootie and the Blowfish know this! This is why they had a number one hit with "Let Her Cry!" It's impressive how such a wrenching song could be so successful, but one supposes the band received a royalty for every breakup that occurred in 1994 and 5. It's easy to see how the song has endured as it has with lines like "This morning I woke up alone / Found a note standing by the phone / Saying baby, maybe I'll be back someday / I wanted to look for you / You walked in I didn't know just what I should do / So I sat back down and had a beer and felt sorry for myself / Saying let her cry / If the tears fall down like rain / Let her sing / If it eases all her pain / Let her go " ("Let Her Cry"). Yes, it might be a whiny man's anthem, but hey, emotive men are cool and you always know what to buy them (handkerchiefs!). In all seriousness, Hootie and the Blowfish wrote a pretty timeless song for the current generation by speaking to something very necessary, with real articulation: the need to let go when a relationship is emotionally manipulative. Dang, if only I had listened closer before I first got married!

The reason the album holds up so well even now, though, is that the radio-friendly hit tracks are not the only decent ones. I was surprised by the power of "Goodbye." For all of the pop-rhymes and late-teen appeal sentiments, "Goodbye" is just wrenching as a poem: "Tomorrow used to be a day away / Now love is gone and you're into someone far away / I never thought the day would come / When I would see his hand not mine / Holding on to yours because I could not / Find the time / And now I can't deny / Nothing lasts forever / But I don't wanna leave and see the teardrops in your eyes / I don't wanna live to see the day we say goodbye." From the first time I heard that track, I was astonished by the power of this ballad which is raw and emotive and piano-driven in contrast to most of the other tracks.

Part of the reason songs like "Goodbye" work so well is that Darius Rucker can sing! He has a smooth, soulful voice that carries notes with real emotion and clearly articulates the poetry the whole band wrote.

Never has misery been more fun to listen to!

The best track is "Let Her Cry," the low point (which is not very low at all!) is the somewhat unmemorable "Look Away."

For other Artist Of The Month reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Working On A Dream - Bruce Springsteen
Forty Licks - The Rolling Stones
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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