1994, Music

Cracked Rear View (1994) by Hootie and the Blowfish

The joke goes something like this:

Q: What is the biggest selling album in history which nobody bought? A: Cracked Rear View.

(Because everyone who bought it was so embarrassed by it later that they hid it and swore to their friends they never bought it, or sold it to the local used music store the moment they could).

It’s pretty funny if you’re not in this band, but it’s also pretty cruel, and it’s very, very ’90s. (Remember, in the 1990s, too much success in the music business was considered a bad thing!) And as with basically every album that is considered one of the worst (or best!) albums ever, the truth is something entirely different.

Why did people hate this band so much? I suspect because of what was happening on radio at the time – for one fleeting moment lasting a couple of years, it felt like the music industry had changed as music with heretofore zero commercial potential in the US dominated the charts. And then post grunge came along and we were suddenly in the ’90s alternative equivalent world of hair metal and ’80s R&B. I don’t think Hootie & the Blowfish had much to do with this change, but they certainly profited from it. (Well, their label did, at the very least.) Much like Counting Crows, Hootie & the Blowfish benefited from the return to commercial norms as alternative was normalized into mainstream rock music, even though they basically had nothing to do with alternative rock.

As anyone who has listened to their singles or this record can tell you, this is not alternative rock. It’s not even vaguely adjacent to alternative rock like a band like Counting Crows could claim to be. Nothing here sounds like Grunge or Post Hardcore or Stoner Metal or Brit Pop or whatever else. Rather, it sounds like something from another era: John Mellencamp, Bob Seger, (a less literate) Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty. Only Rucker has a distinct, powerful voice that sounds nothing like any of these guys, which lets us think we’re hearing something new.

He also has a relatively distinct lyrical voice, which manages to sound more contemporary than the music does. (Though the music at least sounds very good in the sense that it is extremely professionally made and is mixed very well.)

I’m absolutely shocked to report this is far from the worst album to sell 14.5 million copies. Putting sarcasm aside, I wonder if the people who hated this record so much – or were embarrassed by it – were just unaware of how bad some best selling albums are. (Also, we were yet to experience peak boy band, so maybe that had something to do with it, as these things are relative.) It’s fine. It’s a little out of time, but it’s fine.


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