After 25 years, Smash Mouth’s gold still glimmers | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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After 25 years, Smash Mouth’s gold still glimmers

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I’m sure you’re expecting a takedown here, since at some point in the past two decades it apparently became unforgivable for a band to record a phoned-in cover of “I’m a Believer” for a family movie starring an animated green ogre. I don’t blame anyone who sees Smash Mouth as a joke, since they’ve squandered much of their early promise, but I do wish more people could remember the band’s ingenuity. Formed in San Jose, California, in 1994, Smash Mouth started life by cutting an unusual path through ska’s third wave, showing how much fun they could have by dialing back the hardcore aggression and mixing in smooth, straightforward pop melodies. Their 1997 debut, Fush Yu Mang (Interscope), has Warped Tour brattiness to spare but also a spark of original personality; their breakthrough single, “Walkin’ on the Sun,” still gives off an effervescent cool thanks to the fuzzy guitar hooks of songwriter Greg Camp. Smash Mouth departed even more dramatically from the scene that birthed them with 1999’s Astro Lounge, a pop-focused stylistic jumble with plenty of shoulda-been hits and one massive single: “All Star.” At the time, the band’s style of alternative rock was as commonplace as elevator music, but “All Star” transcended genre, blending nasty rock ’tude and goofy radio-pop euphoria into a Jock Jam for nerds. Camp envisioned it as an anthem anyone could find inspiring—or at least find catchy enough to sing along to. Its lyrics read like cleverly crafted slogans, often tongue-in-cheek and earnest at once: the feeling of powerlessness about climate change, for instance, coexists with a joke about how to live through it (“My world's on fire, how about yours? / That's the way I like it and I never get bored”). Front man Steve Harwell provides the final piece of the puzzle, delivering Camp’s words with the exact right amount of self-aware bombast to keep the song permanently stuck in America’s hippocampus. So many teens, tweens, and other adolescents are still making Smash Mouth memes that in February—a full 20 years after “All Star” came out—the song became a hit all over again, reaching number four on the Billboard Rock Streaming Songs chart. I hope these younger listeners also take time to give Smash Mouth’s newer material a listen. The group’s most recent album, 2012’s Magic (429), is certainly no Astro Lounge, but Smash Mouth can still write good hooks—and despite its “Old Man Yells at Cloud” vibe, the song “Justin Bieber” offers some real pop joy.   v

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