Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple

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Hootie Blows Off Critical Backlash

Any writer who has taken a swipe at Hootie and the Blowfish over the past three or four years is hereby advised to avoid any and all personal contact with the band.

Not because the South Carolina foursome -- in town this past week to tape a Wednesday-night concert at the Phoenix for radio broadcast, shoot a video, play some golf and promote its forthcoming record, Musical Chairs -- is particularly hostile toward its detractors, but because the guys are so disarmingly normal, candid and... well, nice, that you'll hate yourself for dissing them.

There are no Axl Rose-style rock-star tantrums or threats of retribution when guitarist and resident baritone Darius Rucker and bassist Dean Felber are asked to discuss the critical and commercial backlash that arose somewhere between Hootie's 14-million-selling major-label debut, Cracked Rear View, in 1994 and its 1996 follow-up, Fairweather Johnson (which sold a respectable, if comparatively disappointing, two million or so copies). The genial duo merely shrugs it off as part of the rock 'n' roll game.

"We expected it," says Rucker. "Nobody's ever done anything that mattered and didn't really get a backlash, and when you sell that many records, you automatically matter. You just brace yourself and say 'here comes the (expletive)'...

"A lot of bands go into the studio -- I know we did -- just to make a record. It just happened that a lot of people bought it. I thought that's what music was all about: you make records that people want to listen to, people want to hear. But the second you sell records, there's no art to it."

Indeed, adds Felber, for a while it looked as though the music press was storing up greater vitriol with each successive platinum record the band racked up, to the point where even critics who'd praised the good-timey Cracked Rear View as a "breath of fresh air" in post-grunge America when it first came out wound up rescinding their earlier comments.

"With each million albums we sold, it just kind of built up this resentment inside some people," Felber says. "And I think when it came to Fairweather Johnson, that's when they had a chance to release it. I don't think we ever took anything personally, and I can't remember ever reading an article and being hurt by it. But I think my mom was."

After four solid years on the road around the globe in support of Cracked Rear View and Fairweather Johnson, the Hootie camp took a break early last year for, as Rucker puts it, "nine months of nothingness." The band finally regrouped last October to begin recording Musical Chairs with producer Don Gehman (REM), who oversaw the last two albums.

Like Fairweather, the new record (due Sept. 15) sticks close to Rear View's lightly anthemic, Southern-rock vibe while deviating ever so slightly from the formula. It's a bit more muscular and crunchy on the rockier numbers, perhaps, and the band flirts with bluegrass and country stylings and the odd string arrangement on a couple of tracks, but there's nothing on Musical Chairs to frighten away the millions who've scooped up previous Hootie product.

Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple
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