Come roll back the years with Hootie & the Blowfish. Their new 13-track offering will transport you to when Bill Clinton was in office and the Macarena took over America.
"Imperfect Circle," their first studio album in almost 15 years, picks off right where they left off, with earnest and yet utterly forgettable songs. They're nice when you play them but make no discernible impression.
For any younger readers, a refresher: Hootie & the Blowfish emerged from the University of South Carolina with a laid-back, post-grunge and cheerful mix of rootsy rock and country.
Saddled with a name that aged poorly — both parts are nicknames for guys not even in the band — Hootie & the Blowfish took the best new artist title at the 1996 Grammys thanks to such hits as "Hold My Hand," "Let Her Cry" and "Only Wanna Be With You," and then took their place with other inoffensive college bro-rockers like Blues Traveler and Counting Crows.
The intervening decades have done nothing to darken the Hootie vibe. In fact, lead singer Darius Rucker seems even more disengaged, writing love songs to his longtime wife and reminding listeners he's a lucky, lucky man. "Why's a beauty queen standing here with me?" he asks
Rucker's voice has a deeper baritone and a more pronounced twang, showing the influence of his years as a country chart-topper. But the songs are mushy. "Wildfire Love" featuring Lucie Silvas was co-written by Ed Sheeran but neither make it spark. "Hold On" is co-written by Chris Stapleton and wastes some funky guitar. The majority of the album was produced by Jeff Trott, who has — surprise, surprise — worked with Counting Crows. Though Rucker insists in "Change" that life is always altering, nothing on this album is fresh.
Most of the lyrics sound like what you'd find stitched onto the pillows of a hippie baby boomer — "Mondays are just Fridays in disguise," "There ain't nothing that a little love can't get us through" and "Tell me to and I will shoot down the moon."
Rucker is all about a can't-we-just-get-along ethos. The closest he gets to socially conscious is the cheerful, Hawaiian-tinged "We Are One," in which he blithely sings, "You and I, to the left or to the right/Meet you somewhere in between."
That would be the mushy middle.