Let us pause for a second to appreciate the middle verse on “Let Her Cry”:
This morning I woke up alone
Found a note standing by the phone
Saying maybe, maybe I'll be back some day
I wanted to look for you
You walked in, I didn't know just what I should do
So I sat back down and had a beer and felt sorry for myself
Impassioned, Darius Rucker strains his big croon, its brass and rasp in powerful harmony. He takes an audible breath just as he reaches the point where his hot-and-cold love affair leaves him exhausted and thirsty.
The verse is a low-key killer, but the rest of the song is also better than you might remember. Goosed by wistful organ and brightly bristling guitar lines from Mark Bryan, it’s plainly spoken and determined, a mid-tempo anthem for hearts that ache but refuse to be broken. Foolhardy gesture? Probably. But it’s made all the more relatable by its potential futility.
It’s Cracked Rear View at its best: Rousingly, awkwardly earnest, it makes you want to believe what Rucker sings as profoundly as he does.
Major label debuts aren’t supposed to go like Hootie’s 1994 Atlantic Records bow. The terrain is littered with artists who relent to the wills of producers and executives, delivering albums that are more product than heartfelt expression. But there’s never a sense that Rucker and company aren’t saying and playing exactly what they want.
For those who don’t dig the host of often-mumble-mouth, always jangly soft-rockers Hootie Cracked the door for — from Matchbox 20 to the Goo Goo Dolls, Edwin McCain to Third Eye Blind — it can be hard to divorce that legacy from the music. But if you can, it becomes easy to see why the album caught fire in the first place.
The ubiquitous “Only Wanna Be With You” is an appreciably silly mid-relationship love song, its tumbles of jittery acoustic strums and sprightly electric fills stoking an appropriate sense of clumsy rushing as Rucker tries to explain — to us, to himself, to his partner — why he hasn’t bolted yet. She eyerolls (like we eyeroll) when he proclaims, “Dolphins make me cry,” and when he quotes Dylan out of nowhere. Relationship dynamics haven’t advanced much since 1994, I guess.
The subsequent “Running From an Angel” is even more convincing, an electrified back-porch stomper with fiddle, guitar and bongos that zip along propulsively. The lyrics — like a lot of the lyrics on Cracked — are vague and inconsequential. But when the band bounds with such good-natured tenacity, and when Rucker belts out a chorus about angels and devils, it’s easy to focus on your own s#!t and sing along anyway.
There are times when Hootie’s earnest approach gets a little too clumsy.
To be sure, the verses of “Drowning” actually work well — a little too well — in 2019, with Rucker frantically shifting rhythm as he rants about a world that can be a little too much sometimes: “Trouble with the world is we're too busy to think about it, all right / Why is there a rebel flag hanging from the state house walls? / Tired of hearin' this s#!t about heritage not hate.” That flag that flew in Columbia came down a few years ago, but the underlying issues remain.
Still, while the message connects — and while the bustling arrangement, with its crisp guitar-monies, is among the album’s best — the chorus paints with a broad and ungainly brush: “Drowning, in a sea of tears / Hatred, trying to hide your fears / Living, only for yourself / Hating, everybody else 'cause they don't look like you.”
A few other songs are just forgettable: In both words and music, “Look Away” is the record’s least rousing expression of romantic unrest, and the ballad “Goodbye,” despite an elegant treatment and Rucker’s dynamic vocal, is far too average to earn its place as the last full song.
It’s not perfect. But revisiting Cracked Rear View, alive with the thrill of a band getting to do their thing their way for a potentially massive audience, reminds this writer, who fixates on the precision of saying what you mean, that meaning what you say is just as important.
What: Hootie & the Blowfish
Where: Colonial Life Arena, 801 Lincoln St.
When: Sept. 11-13, 7:30 p.m. each night
With: Barenaked Ladies
Price: $29.50 and up
More: 803-576-9200, coloniallifearena.com