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Hootie & The Blowfish - Imperfect Circle (Album Review)

Monday, 11 November 2019 Written by Simon Ramsay

According to Newton’s third law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That partly explains how Hootie & The Blowfish’s debut album, 1994’s ‘Cracked Rear View’, sold over 20 million copies. At a time when raw, angst-ridden grunge was at its peak, the band touted an infectiously positive mainstream roots-rock sound that couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed to Kurt Cobain and co. if it declared ‘Seattle Sucks’ in every lyric.

It’s very easy to take Hootie to task for peddling such vanilla fare. Yes, their music was beige by contrast, but there was also a timeless charm that emanated from such appealingly tuneful and well crafted songs. Besides, sometimes you just want to have a beer, engage in a little romance and sing along to easily digestible music that makes you forget your troubles for a while. Bar some easily avoidable flaws, that’s exactly what ‘Imperfect Circle’, the band’s first studio album in 14 years, has accomplished.

Delivering classic chorus after classic chorus, everything from the breezy afterglow of New Year’s Day and sun kissed arena anthem Miss California to Wildfire Love, a soaring duet with Lucie Silvas, features radiant hooks that feel like a warm and loving embrace.

The record hits the melodic sweet spot every time thanks to bright production from Jeff Trott and Frank Rogers (who’s worked on all of frontman Darius Rucker’s post-Hootie country records). The mix is equally pleasing, allowing every instrumental lick, particularly on calypso ditty Turn It Up, to pop out the speakers.

That said, ‘Imperfect Circle’ is so unapologetically middle of the road it could have been called ‘Cat’s Eyes.’ Well sculpted pop-rock strains largely dominate and—save for a few typically cliched sentiments about love healing our world—the lyrical content rarely strays beyond stock relationship fare.  Fortunately, Rucker, who remains the band’s ace in the hole thanks to his rich and soulful baritone, brings the illusion of gravitas to these songs that, bar the lovely introspection of Change, isn’t really there.

Yet the frontman also dominates a little too much and, consequently, the record often sounds like one of his country efforts with the Hootie boys merely acting as session musicians. Sure, there’s the odd tasty guitar burst on Everybody But You, Not Tonight boasts a nice walking bassline and Rollin’ finds the whole gang in full swing, but the group are rarely let off the leash to express themselves with the kind of rootsy textures that featured on early efforts. As a result the songs are intensely formulaic, predictably structured and lacking a strong musical personality.

Hootie & The Blowfish may be on cruise control on this comeback effort, but with reference to Newton’s words, the album does serve a purpose. Across the globe right now, and particularly in the USA, there’s a lot of misery, hardship and conflict. If we consider ‘Imperfect Circle’ as a feelgood reaction to such turmoil, then it’s a consistently uplifting antidote that, mostly, thrives within the limited parameters it’s set itself.





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