photo & text by nacrowe
in the mid-to-late 1990s there seemed to be a whole cadre of POP-ORIENTED, RETRO-THEMED NEW WAVE-adjacent bands coming out of CALIFORNIA that included everyone from LIT, SUGAR RAY, GOLDFINGER, ZEBRAHEAD and SMASH MOUTH. this wave of artists was obviously a direct consequence of the recent success of fellow POP-FRIENDLY local artists like NO DOUBT, GREEN DAY and THE OFFSPRING in the wake of the untimely demise of NIRVANA and that more somber strain of ALTERNATIVE ROCK that dominated the beginning of the decade.
when i listen back at SMASH MOUTH's debut, FUSH YU MANG (INTERSCOPE, 1997), the title itself a cultural reference to AL PACINO's slurred "fuck you, man" line in SCARFACE (UNIVERSAL, 1983), i hear a TOP-HEAVY album that is indicative of the period in which singles pushed OVERPRICED albums. as singles go, "WALKING ON THE SUN" is a BANGER. singer STEVE HARTWELL never sounded more RELAXED and CHARISMATIC. like DEXTER HOLLAND (THE OFFSPRING) before him, he would go on to construct formulaic and trite lyrics meant for mass consumption on film soundtracks or worse, doing away with originality altogether and just covering cheesy 60s pop drivel. on this song however he serves the song and does it extraordinarily well, which is why i remember being INTRIGUED by the band when seeing them perform this song on MADTV way back in the day.
the SECRET WEAPON of SMASH MOUTH is the UBER-TALENTED main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist GREG CAMP. the dude is very CLEVER with how he utilizes vintage sounds out of HAMMOND organs, reverb-drenched FENDER JAZZMASTERS and SWINGIN' LOUNGE drum beats to create an aural landscape that oozes HIPNESS and NOSTALGIC intimations of 1950s-era bowling alleys, drive-thrus and roadside diners while sounding thoroughly MODERN. in fact, all through his initial discography with the band, i.e. ASTRO LOUNGE (INTERSCOPE, 1999) and SMASH MOUTH (INTERSCOPE, 2001) i felt that the band was a waste of his gifted abilities as a songwriter, composer and arranger. i almost look at him like a modern JEFF LYNNE (ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA). the risk of looking back at the superficial cultural elements of the past, especially the pre-CIVIL RIGHTS era 1950s, is that it whitewashes the SEEDIER elements into a bygone utopia that is historically INACURATE and intrinsically MISGUIDED. some of these bands unfortunately fall into that category, but with CAMP's deft vision he re-contextualizes such for something that felt FRESH and of the 90s, not a rehash of something four decades its predecessor.
is FUSH YU MANG worth checking out. i dont know. "WALKING ON THE SUN" definitely is. for me this album would not exist if not in the pre-file sharing / pre-SPOTIFY era, because the other songs on the album are meh. back then an album had a better return on investment then a single, so that was the music industry scam that came to a close at the turn of the millennium rendering this nostalgic album somewhat of a modern day anachronism of a past business model that thankfully became OUTMODED. on a side note, im just glad CAMP is out there again these days with his new project, THE DEFIANT, featuring members of THE OFFSPRING and THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES. that band looks promising by evidence of what theyve put out recently. now check that out instead!