Hootie & the Blowfish, South Carolina's biggest music success story of the '90s, released its new album "Imperfect Circle" on Nov. 1.
It's a new dose of the same old Hootie that took radio waves by storm more than two decades ago, with little variation from the band's signature theme of letting the good times roll.
It's not particularly profound. It's not anything earth-shattering. But maybe that doesn't really matter.
A review penned by Associated Press entertainment writer Mark Kennedy that we shared online via Charleston Scene on Oct. 30, just ahead of the album release, said the "new album blows," sending some longtime Hootie fans into an uproar. The review was pretty brutal.
"'Imperfect Circle,' their first studio album in almost 15 years, picks (up) right where they left off, with earnest and yet utterly forgettable lyrics," Kennedy writes. "They're nice when you play them but make no discernible impression."
Ouch. He's not necessarily wrong, but he's missing the point.
Hootie never tried to create a timeless art piece. Instead, the band created something rarer: a certain brand of sentimentality that has stuck with an entire generation.
Hootie became a band of nostalgia, stalwart proponents of a certain kind of feel-good moment. The lyrics and sound are light and lovestruck, fielding memories of first crushes and laid-back Southern summer adventures — a vibe the University of South Carolina kids were going for back in the '90s, and exactly what they're still going for today with "Imperfect Circle."
Hootie's straightforward and simple (if a bit vapid) love songs embedded themselves into enough heads to make "Cracked Rear View" one of the best-selling albums of all time.
And when Hootie announced a reunion tour and new music, the same fans that stood in line at The Windjammer to see the band in the '90s turned out in 2019, despite the fact that the band didn't play a single song from the new album while on that tour.
Those Hootie fans will listen to "Imperfect Circle" simply because they're Hootie fans, and a new generation likely won't listen to it because it's not part of their coming-of-age experience, and not noteworthy enough on its own to capture their attention.
Ironically, part of the reason this college roots-rock band from South Carolina became successful nationally was because of bad reviews.
Hootie & the Blowfish never have been very popular among critics.
"It’s an album full of what Hootie themselves call 'silly little pop songs' — no more, no less," Jim DeRogatis of Rolling Stone wrote in 1996 about Hootie's second disc, "Fairweather Johnson."
At one point, he says they're the "blandest extreme of a wave of bands." At another, their lyrics "reek of Hallmark-card sentimentality."
DeRogatis didn't have it all wrong. Some of Hootie's songs are eye-rollingly sweet — but they are also catchy, like "I Only Wanna Be With You," which is still to this day a sanguine summery track I want to hear when I'm driving to Folly Beach.
That's what mattered to the general public, particularly the early South Carolina fans supporting their local heroes.
"Imperfect Circle" doesn't have an "I Only Wanna Be With You" on it, but some Hootie fans won't care about that. There are still plenty of catchy, if cheesy, songs.
"New Year's Day" starts off by trying to hold onto a moment and savor it. "Forget about your worries that were yesterday / Take a trip to all those champagne castaways / Come on baby, let's kiss just like it's New Year's Day."
Meanwhile, the final ballad, "Change," loses what "New Year's Day" tries to keep close. Darius Rucker admits he's older now. Time has worn on; he's lost something (maybe the magic of "Cracked Rear View"). In true uplifting Hootie fashion, he can't come to fully admit it — "but that's okay."
The stuff in the middle shifts between love songs and party anthems.
Despite Ed Sheeran's appearance on "Wildfire Love," the song gets lost in the puddle of similarly sentimental love songs, but "Hold On," with country star Chris Stapleton's hooky guitar line, has a little something extra that might just make the oyster roast playlist.
Darius Rucker's country influence simmers on "Lonely on a Saturday Night," another classic "boy meets girl at a bar" scenario and again in "Rollin'," a happy-go-lucky twangy guitar track about driving along the "coast of Carolina."
Despite the fact that it "seems like this whole world's going wrong," we're being reminded that "there is hope" and "we've got to hold on to each other," even if those sappy sentiments are entirely cliche.
Babes, bars and beaches, man. Hootie's songs are all about one of 'em.
Will you be listening to "Imperfect Circle" while sipping a tropical beverage at Surf Bar or during your neighborhood barbecue or out on the boat on the Fourth of July?
If you're a Hootie fan, absolutely. Let the good times roll.