Monday, March 11, 2013

Faith-Based Blowfish: "Hootie & The Blowfish" Continues Feel-Good Melancholy Pop Rock With Looking For Lucky.

The Good: Decent vocals, Decent lyrics
The Bad: Some obvious rhymes, Instrumentally predictable
The Basics: One of the more solid Hootie & The Blowfish albums, Looking For Lucky has all the jingles and hooks, without the commercial success.

Hootie & The Blowfish may well be the greatest one-album wonder band of the 1990s. I mean, there were one-hit wonders, but few groups had a debut like Cracked Rear View and then nothing that truly followed it up. MatchBox Twenty, for example, had a comparable debut with Yourself Or Someone Like You (reviewed here!), but they were able to hold pretty strong (and critically improve) with their sophomore album, Mad Season By MatchBox Twenty (reviewed here!). But Hootie & The Blowfish? They had their day, their flash in the pan and they never duplicated that.

So, by the time Looking For Lucky comes along, one might suspect that virtually everyone would have given up on Hootie & The Blowfish, much like the mainstream gave up on the Spin Doctors. With Looking For Lucky, though, Hootie & The Blowfish made a pretty solid album that seems to duplicate the sound and feel of Cracked Rear View (reviewed here!), only . . . no one was listening. I strain to recall what we were all listening to in 2005 instead of Hootie & The Blowfish, but Looking For Lucky pretty well bombed, but objectively evaluating it, it is hard to say quite why. After all, the album continues in the tried and true formula of Darius Rucker's strong, deep vocals clearly articulating the lyrics the band wrote, backed by a garage band pop-rock sound.

With twelve tracks, clocking in at 42:31, Looking For Lucky is perhaps the most collaborative effort Hootie & The Blowfish has done to date (at least that I've heard). Only two songs are written exclusively by the quartet of Bryan, Felber, Rucker and Sonefeld. The other ten tracks are co-written with a bevy of other writers. The main vocals are still performed by Darius Rucker with backing from the other three members of the band and all four continue to play their own instruments. There are, however, additional instrumentals provided by people like John Hobbs, who plays piano and mellatron on "The Killing Stone." As well, there are additional backing vocalists, like John Cowan on "Leaving." As well, Hootie & the Blowfish is not credited with being involved in any aspect of production of Looking For Lucky.

Looking For Lucky is a remarkably typical Hootie & The Blowfish album, as far as the sounds and instrumentals go. This is pretty upbeat sounding pop-rock. Looking For Lucky has much more spirituality or faith to it than other Hootie & The Blowfish albums, with songs like "Another Year's Gone By" and "Get Out Of My Mind" making references to god and the soul and such. It works for the sound and feel of the music of the band, but those who object to such things ought to know up front that this is a pretty loaded album as far as the content of spirituality and unrelenting moralizing.

Indeed, if there is anything that truly unifies Looking For Lucky, it is that melancholy sense of the oneness of the world in god's hands. The lyrics take a pretty direct acceptance of faith and glorification of god, loving thy neighbor and the like. Nowhere is this more obvious or direct than on the song "The Killing Stone," with its lines like "I heard the preacher man speaking on the radio / I remember thinking I would like to tell him where to go / Go back to that book that you've been waving around /Open it up, and go to that part about / You without sin, pick up that stone . . . you can't hide / All that lies beneath . . . The killing stone." The song goes on to express a desire for salvation in very Christian terms, including redemption of the soul. The men of Hootie & The Blowfish are filled on this album with the apparent need to proselytize. They do it well with generally catchy tunes, too, like "Smile," an upbeat insistence that everyone just try to smile.

Songs like "One Love" continue a pretty obvious christian theme through the end of the album. Unlike most Hootie & the Blowfish albums that are filled with songs that are essentially little stories, there is only one musical story on Looking For Lucky. That's "Autumn Jones" and in the tradition of prior similar songs, it tells the melancholy story of "Autumn Jones / Do you remember when your Daddy said goodbye / How you blamed yourself as tears fell from your eye / He was gone . . . I understand your soul, it feels like cryin'." This is yet another Hootie & the Blowfish song with a terribly depressed protagonist who is just wallowing in their misery (a la "Let Her Cry" from Cracked Rear View). One supposes it still sounds new and different because it was never severely overplayed.

In generally, the lyrics are good. The poetics are direct and generally have something to say. The only real exception to the lyrical quality comes in the fairly mindless pop song "Hey Sister Pretty." On that track, the lyrics go pretty stale opting for the easy rhymes with lines like "Hey sister pretty your lips are on the city / Everybody's waiting for the honeymoon to end / I'm still trying to stop this thing from dying / Don't forget to kiss before you beat me up again" ("Hey Sister Pretty"). I honestly don't know what it means to have one's lips upon the city, but perhaps it's a Southern colloquialism. As it stands, it just sounds silly to me.

Sadly, the defiance of the predictable rhymes only sounds lame on Looking For Lucky. This occurs prominently when, on musing about love, there comes the line "All it costs to find out is time" on "Free To Everyone" and - despite the truth of the line - it just crashes and burns.

Musically, Looking For Lucky is pretty much what one would expect from a Hootie & The Blowfish album. The songs are generally upbeat in their tempo and sound fun no matter how bad the musical protagonist of the song is being tormented. This sounds like a what it is: a guitar bass, drums band given enough funding to make their album sound big, bold and professional. There are, however, two exceptions to this on the album.

"The Killing Stone" is terribly derivative in the vocals and some of the opening instrumentals of the MatchBox Twenty song "Rest Stop." Indeed, if there were ever a track where Darius Rucker was doing a Rob Thomas impersonation, it is "The Killing Stone," at least in the beginning. The thing is, this is still a wonderful track with a great message, it just sounds produced in a very atypical way for Hootie & The Blowfish.

The other song is "Waltz Into Me," the final track on the album. This is a true waltz and is sounds wonderful in a very down home, "we're cool enough to get away with this" way. The album closes on this strange high note because Darius Rucker and the men of Hootie & The Blowfish are cool enough to do a smooth, ballad waltz and make it work. It sounds like nothing else on the album and, indeed, nothing else the band has on their other albums that I have heard.

As I wrap this up, I have to say, I enjoyed Looking For Lucky more than any other Hootie & The Blowfish album outside Cracked Rear View. While some of their other albums might be boring, Looking For Lucky is not and when the band releases an inevitable "Greatest Hits" album, given the lack of singles from this one, it might well be the best value for an album to keep on the shelves next to their greatest hits for a more rounded sense of the band's abilities.

The best track is probably "The Killing Stone," the low point is the repetitive and somewhat vocally monotonous "Another Year's Gone By."

For other Artist Of The Month reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Rumours (2-Disc Version) – Fleetwood Mac
Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996 – 2006 - The Eels
Opiate - Tool


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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