That’s right. It’s 2015 and I’m writing about Hootie & The Blowfish — a band that was already an easy punchline by the late ‘90s, and by now is, well, I don’t even know. But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure it out together, with a little love, and some tendah-ness.
Album: Cracked Rear View
Artist: Hootie & The Blowfish
Release Date: July 5, 1994
Copies Sold In The U.S.: It’s listed as having sold around 12 million copies, but is also certified as having gone 16x platinum, so who knows exactly.
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Moving On From Depressing Shit
It’s hard not to feel like you’re beating the everliving crap out of a dead horse when you frame anything that has to do with ‘90s rock music within it’s correlation to Nirvana or grunge, but the truth is, most of the time you have to. Even though Kurt Cobain was only breathing oxygen for about half of the decade, his shadow looms large over a lot of what happened in ‘90s rock music during the decade’s remaining years. This is why, even when talking about a band as dopey and disposable as Hootie & The Blowfish, a band who’s members I’d be curious to know if they’d even heard Bleach, it must be said that Kurt Cobain and grunge contributed considerably to their success.
And by “contributed considerably to their success”, I mean the death and destruction of grunge/Kurt Cobain were a big part of Hootie’s briefly gargantuan popularity. Really, all you have to do is look at the release date of Cracked Rear View. This debut was released mere months after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and after what was surely the most depressing Spring that alt-rock fans have ever endured, here came an album full of hooks and earnestness that could satiate everyone that wanted something that was a little like grunge, but not enough that it would remind them of the bitter taste it had left in everyone’s mouths. And sure, in retrospect, this album seems so much more forgettable than a lot of other mega-selling rock albums of this era, but I can see why it would be such a hit at this moment in time. You see, grunge musicians were… complicated. Songs like “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be With You” are not. In fact, the lyrics and melodies to these songs have such child-like levels of simplicity, that they’d come off as lazy if they weren’t being sung with so much conviction by Darius Rucker (a.k.a. the guy who is not actually named Hootie).
I also have to imagine that Darius Rucker (again, not Hootie) served as an alluring contrast to the white-washed masses of mopey grunge frontmen. Here was a guy who seemed like he was down to have a good time, due to his propensity for baseball caps and being surrounding by a band that looked like a bunch of frat guys (or at least if we ignore the drummer who bears a slight resemblance to Mark Arm of Mudhoney). Just look at that video for “Only Wanna Be With You”, where Hootie and the guys are running around having fun with a bunch of professional athletes and you tell me you wouldn’t rather shoot hoops with these guys than say, the actual Mark Arm of Mudhoney. Of course, that doesn’t actually make their music good, but I guess in times of crises, people will often turn towards what feels good rather than what is good.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
Even despite the fact that it’d be hard to mistake Cracked Rear View for something good, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s bad. I mean, I don’t hate it. In fact, I think there’s something sort of charming about how straight-down-the-middle this band plays it over the course of this album. There’s no irony, there’s no posturing. It’s merely a bunch of somewhat sappy loves songs, done with just enough rock and more than enough earnestness to get your toe tapping. And maybe if you just let yourself go a bit while listening to it, you might start to enjoy yourself, even despite the fact that there’s absolutely nothing remarkable about these songs at all.
Scattered throughout Hootie & The Blowfish’s wikipedia page (my prime source of information since no one’s cared enough to write about this band since the rise of the internet), descriptors like “roots rock”, “pop rock”, and “heartland rock” are thrown around to describe Hootie’s sound. But honestly, all of these labels seem way to distinctive to have anything to do with this band, while the most apt description of their music for me would be “generic rock”, though I don’t necessarily mean that in a derogatory manner. This is rock music that doesn’t take chances or have any aspirations of being anything other than pleasant and consistently catchy, which in most cases would probably bug me, but with Hootie it doesn’t.
I guess it just all comes back to that earnestness I was talking about. These guys don’t strike me as the types that were writing cliche-ridden love songs just to try and milk the overflowing cash-cow that was the music industry in the mid-90’s. No, they were just a bunch of under-qualified dudes making the kind of music they liked, which somehow managed to be popular, and unsurprisingly is now pretty much irrelevant. And unlike their closest musical cousin Dave Matthews Band, they haven’t stuck around years past their expiration date seemingly just to entertain idiots while annoying people who can tell what mediocrity sounds like. So that makes Hootie alright in my book.
Would I Pay Money For This?
As I said, I do find this album actually mildly enjoyable, and not nearly as dated as you’d think. I’ll chalk this up to a theory I laid down in my Matchbox 20 entry, where I theorized that simple guitar-driven music will pretty much always hold up, even if whatever it was holding didn’t have any actual weight to it. Still, it’s hard to think of an album that you would have less to gain by listening to. So much so that instead of spending money on Cracked Rear View, you’d be just as well off buying a box that’s filled with nothing but air and listening to what’s inside of that.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIeeeeeIIIIII will review The Bodyguard Soundtrack by Whitney Houston.