A central tenet of my belief system can be summed up in three words: "Hootie is evil." Yet Hootie's frat-pop folky jangle can be as alluring as a siren's song along a rocky coast, beckoning rock critics to their doom. To my horror, I find my foot tapping along to "Silly Little Pop Song" from Fairweather Johnson, Hootie and the Blowfish's follow-up to the band's immensely successful 1994 debut, Cracked Rear View.
What's next, I wonder, Friends?
Psychologists call this condition "cognitive dissonance," a phenomenon where your actions diverge from your ideals. An animal-righter who suddenly craves a steak, for example. In my case, the situation is particularly vexing because it involves the rock equivalent of the Celestine Prophecy. It doesn't help to remind myself that Hootie relies on recycled R.E.M. melodies, spruced up with licks copped from World Party--check out the verse on "Old Man & Me," then dust off Goodbye Jumbo to bring the plagiarism on home--my telltale foot just keeps on tapping.
Fairweather Johnson is darker than Cracked Rear View in the same way Pepsi is a headier brew than Sprite. Still, Hootie took a calculated risk by paddling its happy bark any distance from the shoals of View's sugar-coated pop for Prozac people. Since Cracked Rear View hit the charts running in the fall of 1994, it's gone platinum 13 times over. So for the quartet from Columbia, South Carolina, to take even a small step away from that album's proven formula deserves notice. The fruits of this noble experiment, though, are not without their foibles.
Let's break it down.
Reasons to keep hating Hootie: 1. Insipid liner notes detailing the origins of each track. Drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld offers this insight regarding "Old Man & Me": "For a song that [lead singer] Darius [Rucker] brought in as a country song, it sure ended up going in a different direction." 2. "So Strange," a self-important melodrama that plods through heavy-handed organ, backed by something that wants to be a real gospel chorus when it grows up. 3. "Fool," an uninspired 3U4 tune ostensibly written for no other reason than somebody in the band's road crew complained about the set list being stocked exclusively with 4U4 rhythms. 4. Darius Rucker's voice whenever he tries to sound like he has soul.
Reasons to reconsider your hatred of Hootie: 1. "She Crawls Away," "Be the One" and "Sad Caper," three gems blurring the line between melancholy and jubilation (though the latter is marred by a verse that marks Darius Rucker's most blatant Michael Stipe rip-off to date). 2. Ex-dB Peter Holsapple's accordion playing, which puts some badly needed flesh on Hootie's bones and meshes well with Mark Bryan's fine guitar and mandolin. 3. Bright background vocals that rush over the chorus with the exuberance of a Boy Scout troop bounding over a hill for evening chow.
Rucker and crew enjoy a reputation as the Eagle Scouts of rock 'n' roll--incorrigibly nice guys whose idea of a wild time is shooting hoops and guzzling Fruitopia. That choirboy image--and its accompanying feel-good sound--is enough to make any rock fan with a cigarette and a touch of cynicism skip right to the Fugazi bin. But in this era of Unabombers and 6-year-old killers, it's worth pausing to consider what's so bad about silly little pop songs by guys who want to hug their girlfriends instead of fuck them like an animal.
As swan songs go, Boingo's Farewell is long-winded and unremarkable, much like this band's career. After 17 years in the biz, the New Wave gurus, formerly known as Oingo Boingo, check out with a live, twin-disc "final concert" recording that would challenge the attention span of Gary Kasparov.
Boingo's few tired classics are serviceably represented here--including a raucous "Dead Man's Party" and caffeinated takes on "Little Girls" and "Only a Lad"--but the more than two hours of filler make this an embarrassing goodbye. Like a bad Shakespearean actor, Boingo takes too long to die.--Leigh Silverman