Cracked Rear View
Atlantic Records, 1994
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/26/1998
These days, it's almost hip to hate Hootie & The Blowfish. It's easy to slam them for being lightweight and so much AOR fodder - but then again, aren't these people who make fun of them the same sheep that led the band's debut release Cracked Rear View to be the best-selling album in Atlantic Records' catalog?
And while radio made the big mistake of oversaturating the airwaves with many of the singles off this album, the fact remains that Cracked Rear View isn't that bad an album. I still don't understand how it sold as well as it did, but it's pretty damn catchy at times.
With Darius Rucker's acoustic guitar and deep baritone delivery, Hootie's sound is pretty recognizable almost from note number one. Mark Bryan's electric leads often are quite flowing (though live, it seems hard for him to keep his guitar in tune), while bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim Sonefeld provide a strong backbone for the music - powerful, but not too showy.
From what I remember, there were really only four singles released from Cracked Rear View, although at least two other got significant airplay or publicity. Their debut single "Hold My Hand" was originally shipped to the alternative stations - I distinctly remember WKQX-FM in Chicago playing it quite a bit - only to drop it like a lead brick once it became a mainstream hit. The harmonies on this song - as well as the undeniable power of the acoustic guitar - were the keys to the success of this track, as well as Rucker's delivery.
Then, there's the followup "Let Her Cry," which I swore if I heard one more time on the radio, I was going to vomit. A syrupy sweet tale of love lost and life wasted, VH-1 and radio drooled all over this like a 12-year-old kid staring at nude Anna Nicole Smith pictures on the Internet. The song, in fact, is way too syrupy for my tastes - the world already had one weeping singer in the person of Johnnie Ray, and he's dead, okay? Give it up.
Fortunately, the next two singles were some of the best work on the album. "Only Wanna Be With You," self-deprecating video and all, is a charmer with a distinctively Latin tinge in the main rhythm. It's a great tune that I have yet to get tired of hearing. Same thing goes for "Time," which demonstrates the complete power and control that Rucker and crew have over their sound. If any song deserved the attention of the audience, it was this one.
Two other songs off Cracked Rear View got limited attention. I remember some Chicago radio stations touting "Drowning" as a up-and-coming single, only to disappear in the shadow of the latter two tracks. Too bad - "Drowning" is probably the angriest that Hootie & The Blowfish have gotten in their music to date, and their music could use a little more of that fire. The other song, "I'm Goin' Home," is a powerfully poignant piece Rucker sings about the death of a loved one. (I remember that the band performed this song on one of the numerous New Year's Eve specials on TV in 1994-1995.) It's another song that radio could have leaped on, but didn't.
There are some weak spots on Cracked Rear View, the same ones I would almost expect to hear on any debut album. The band isn't able to maintain a high quality level on all the songs - "Not Even The Trees" and "Goodbye," the album closers, are pretty much throwaways. Even the piece featuring then-unknown Lily Haydn - "Look Away" - isn't one that sticks out.
But there is enough on Cracked Rear View that helps shed some light as to why this band gained a lot of popularity. Radio saturation and strong word-of-mouth helped their case a lot, as did VH-1. And undoubtedly it remains the band's best work (as we await the release of the third album, due sometime this year.)