Hootie and the Blowfish – a forgotten (?) gem of the 90s

The nineties fucking rocked music-wise. Let’s see, there were badass grunge bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana or Pearl Jam. Some other alternative/indie rock acts soon followed as well, including Faith No More, Foo Fighters, The Smashing Pumpkins, No Doubt or Beck. Many well-established bands which started out in the 80s managed to hit new heights – like Metallica with their Black Album, or RHCP with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Hell, some groups from the 70s enjoyed new-found success as well – like Aerosmith and their Get a Grip record in 1993 (who doesn’t sing along to Crazy or Cryin’?). Rap became a next big thing (N.W.A., Wu-Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, Biggie, 2Pac, Eminem), and so did female-fronted pop-rock acts, often associated with the third wave of feminism – singer-songwriters like Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow or Liz Phair were enjoying immense popularity. Pretty much all of those bands entered mainstream, and at this point are considered classics in their respective genres. Like it or not, 1990 was already 27 years ago, so to me it’s almost my whole lifespan. Interestingly (or maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising) enough, there were some groups that aren’t well-known outside their home countries. Hootie and the Blowfish is one of them.

Few years ago I saw the performance of their big hit, Hold My Hand on one of the last Dave Letterman shows and I was immediately captivated – quick search and it turns out they were huge, with millions album copies sold and a number of hit singles. I’m not surprised that my friends don’t know who Akina Nakamori or Yutaka Ozaki are, but Hootie and the Blowfish is Western music so I’d imagine somebody has heard of them, but it wasn’t the case.

I quickly got hold of their debut album, Cracked Rear View and damn, it does seem like the 90s encapsulated. It’s a throwback melody of childhood, which makes you nostalgic – even if you’ve never heard this particular band before, it’s gonna remind you of those long gone moments in the past when you had your first date, went on a trip or hanged around with your friends. Each song tells a story, be it about love, death, time passing, and even raising the issue of racism, but these are not some over-the-top, metaphorical tales of wonder, they all feel very humane.

Darius Rucker’s deep, hearty voice completely draws you in. The band comes from South Carolina, and it carries the Southern rock/ Americana vibe. It actually might be a reason why Hootie and the Blowfish wasn’t that successful in Poland, as it may appear too country for the people here? It’s no Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, but their sound definitely has some roots in that kind of music.

Cracked Rear View is very guitar-driven, and I love it so much. Almost every song starts with some juicy guitar part, and it just goes so well together with Rucker’s emotional delivery. The album is even, there are no let-down tracks here, so it’s really nice to just play the CD from start to finish (although I realize it goes totally against the current trend of just listening to one-off songs you get from ITunes or random Youtube playlists).

Initially, I thought this album was quite uplifting. Now I’m leaning to call it a pretty bittersweet listening. At first we get tunes like Hold My Hand and I Only Wanna Be with You, which are just charming expressions of youthful love, and almost put a stupid smirk on your face.

Then you get hit with an angry Drowning, which comments on the prevalent racism:

Why must we hate one another?
When the people in the church, they tell me you’re my brother

It’s depressing that over 20 years later essentially nothing changed. My perspective is  that of a person who saw maybe 10 black people in all his life, but seriously, what is wrong with people.

Hating everybody else cause they don’t look like you

…and then the album’s mood turns even very somber. Time, Look Away, Not Even The Trees, Goodbye – they all deal with departures, heartbreak, grief and loneliness. You definitely sense these are all personal experiences that got poured into the songs, which makes them all the more authentic and sad. What I pick up by listening to Cracked Rear View aren’t grief and melancholy only, but rather I find some solace in it.

And my soul begins to bleed
And no one is listening to me, not even the trees

I’m listening to you Darius, and I feel ya. And I feel that epic bass, too.


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