Atlantic Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/28/1997
Prior to the release of their second album, the members of Hootie & The Blowfish found themselves facing this question: "How do we top ourselves?"
After all, they have one of the best-selling debut albums in history. Cracked Rear View spawned no less than four hit singles and sold over 13 million copies, and earned the former bar band two Grammy Awards, including one for Best New Artist. (Some consider this award the kiss of death - who remembers Men At Work? Marc Cohn?)
Now that their second album, Fairweather Johnson has been out for some time, the members of the band may be asking themselves: "Where did we go wrong?"
It's not that it's a bad effort - in fact, had it not been for Cracked Rear View, it may have done quite well. The problem is quite simple, and is the same problem that has plagued many winners of the Best New Artist Grammy: stagnation. The material on Fairweather Johnson sounds like they could be leftovers from the Cracked sessions. Simply put, there is no originality on this one
You could hear it from the debut single, "Old Man And Me". Darius Rucker and crew were just coming off a hit with "Time," one of the best songs off of Cracked. Instead of following it up with a similar-sounding song, they pick one with a more electric tone to it (though I will admit I like the addition of piano on this one). The song did not stand out like many of Hootie's better songs, and was quickly forgotten.
Of the other two singles released to this point, only "Sad Caper" stands out, and is an intriguing little song. The other single, "Tucker's Town," is a poor choice for a single, as well as a song that is just not that good.
As for the rest of the album, the remaining cuts tend to blend together in an unrecognizable haze. Did you just listen to "Be The One" or "Fool?" "When I'm Lonely" or "So Strange?" Probably the only song that does stand out is "She Crawls Away," which could probably be released as a single with moderate success.
Fairweather Johnson is not an easy listen; it took me three attempts to get through the entire disc in one sitting. It's not a good album, it's not a bad album... it's just an album. And this makes all the difference between a 13 million smash hit and a 2 million disappointment. (In their defense, the members of Hootie & The Blowfish admitted they didn't expect this release to sell as many as Cracked. At least they recognized the wall they were coming up against.)
If Hootie & The Blowfish are to thrive in the ruthless music industry, they will need to re-think their musical approach a little bit and see if they can adapt to the tastes of their audience. To misquote the late Jerry Garcia, listening to Fairweather Johnson is a bit like eating licorice - you either hate it or you love it very much. Hootie & The Blowfish haven't made me rethink my eating habits... yet.