Picks and Pans Review: Hootie & the Blowfish (Atlantic)

UPDATED 03/10/2003 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/10/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

Hootie & the Blowfish

After selling more than 16 million copies of their debut album, 1994's Cracked Rear View, Hootie & the Blowfish went belly up with their last disc of new material, 1998's Musical Chairs, which sold fewer than 1 million copies. Fans should give a Hootie about the group's latest, though, which finds the quartet delivering the same agreeable, rootsy pop-rock that led to early hits like "Hold My Hand" and "Only Wanna Be with You."

Unlike frontman Darius Rucker, who last year tried a radical neosoul makeover on his overlooked solo debut, Back to Then, the group has chosen not to mess with a dependable formula. They still sound like the ultimate bar band. Upbeat tracks with sing-along choruses, like "Space," are exactly what we've come to expect from them: songs that will sound great blaring out of your car stereo. They are balanced by bittersweet ballads like the folky, aching "Tears Fall Down." For his part, Rucker brings some of his new soulfulness to the cautionary tale "Little Brother," but he sounds corny when he tosses in urban slang: "How you gonna say what you can and can't do/ Sittin' in the crib parked in front of the tube." The band also ventures into country territory on the hokey "Little Darlin'." They're more successful covering the Continental Drifters' 1999 tune "The Rain Song," with Drifters Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill adding sunny harmonies.

BOTTOM LINE: Solid if unspectacular

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