Alex Hodges, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor
My mother asked me the other day who some of my heroes are. I hadn’t ever truly thought about it, but honestly, there aren’t any specific names that come to mind. Being a musician, there are many names in the music world that I respect for their talent or for their perspective on creating music, but none that I would call a hero(ine). I decided recently not to idolize people so much after Ryan Adams got destroyed for being manipulative and terrible to numerous women with whom he’d worked. In the end, a lot of people just turn out to be terrible. However, there is one man in the music world that people don’t often recognize by name who I believe remains a perfect example of what humans should strive to be. His name is Steve Harwell.
Harwell is formerly a member of the rap group F.O.S. All anyone really knows about him is that he attended Prospect High School in Saratoga, California. He has appeared on television and in radio, and he even had a cameo in the 2001 film “Rat Race.”
I won’t keep babbling on about Harwell, certainly not while calling him by his secret identity. I hope that my tactical deception has diverted all but the true fans, and now, those of us that are left can really appreciate the true master that Harwell really is: the dude from Smash Mouth.
In all seriousness, I am the biggest Smash Mouth fan I know. I own their entire discography on CD, except for their Christmas album from 2005 titled “The Gift of Rock” (which I’m still looking for). Other than my brother, I’m not sure anyone else I associate with has come to appreciate their music for what it really is: an impressive mixture of so many different beautiful and wonderful things.
Smash Mouth is a lot of things. I’d try to describe what they are in their essence, but even that yields a medley of different influences. They are punk, they are rock, they are pop, they are hip hop, they are bossa nova, they are ska and they are even sometimes disco. I’m going to focus mainly on one album and how it crafts a combination of so many different genres.
I want to address what is technically their third album release, coming after “Fush Yu Mang” and its separate deluxe edition, which both came out in 1997. Only two years later, two days prior to my birth, came what I call a genre-exploring masterpiece called “Astro Lounge.” Yes, I do think this is one of the greatest albums of all time, and I will stand by that until I die.
This album is genius to me because, to me, it perfectly exemplifies what Smash Mouth is all about. Even though they cover so much ground musically, they do it in their own way. There is no arguing that, with a voice like Harwell’s out front, it’s hard to misidentify a Smash Mouth tune when you hear one.
They start the album with a couple of fun electronic punk songs with “spacey” synth lines and computer sounds. The second track on the album, “Diggin’ Your Scene,” features their unmistakable synthesizer organ sound. It acts as a supporting instrument both harmonically and rhythmically, but it also takes its own solo sections to really give that “Smash Mouth Sound.” They jump into some songs that sound more characteristic of The Birds combined with some classical guitar elements, and then run straight into the oh-so recognized “All Star.”
Now I think is where Smash Mouth’s genius really shows. They shift directions completely and do a bossa nova, followed immediately by a straight-up punk song.
The latter part of the album, from about track nine through the end, is more what Smash Mouth really sounds like at their core. They end with tracks that are somewhat better known to the world, such as “Come On, Come On” and “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby.”
I’m providing this insight into Smash Mouth because they are more than a band listed on a faded, plastic Dreamworks vhs case in a drawer at your house. They certainly mean more than that to me. Give “Astro Lounge” a once-through and tell me your ears haven’t been graced by something you’ve never experienced. Because music is such a subjectively consumed thing, I can’t force listeners to think it’s good, but I can say right now that this album is a marvel. I look forward to this summer, when I can celebrate our birthdays together while listening to their disco-punk track, “Pacific Coast Party.”