Short Cuts

Smash Mouth
Astro Lounge
(Interscope)

In the world according to Smash Mouth, the '70s never happened. The group's infuriatingly uneven 1997 debut album, Fush Yu Mang, was a blend of '80s-style postpunk, new wave, and reggae informed by a curious '60s lounge sensibility. Displaying an impressive talent for reconciling disparate musical styles, the band drew favorable comparisons to alternapop wunderkind Beck. But where Beck's best work sounds precociously mature, Smash Mouth buried its eclecticism under heaps of winking, party-hearty lyricism. The formula was exemplified on their humongous hit, "Walkin' on the Sun": Take a splash of classic Britpop, mix with a dash of lounge, add skanky rhythms and some B-movie sound effects, and shake and stir.

Since the formula proved so profitable the first time around, Smash Mouth has decided to stay the course. Like its predecessor, Astro Lounge is a hit-and-miss melange of classic pop styles undermined by lame lyricism and annoying vocals. In concert, frontman Steve Harwell is a likable-enough character, a hardy Falstaff with a mischievous charm. On disc Harwell's vocals suggest a boorish frat boy searching for a keg. His limitations, combined with the band's '60s affectations, make Smash Mouth sound like soundtrack supervisors for the Austin Powers franchise.

That's too bad, because there are some delectable moments here, notably "Who's There," a propulsive track that revives the glory days of new wave, and slower tracks ("Satellite" and "Waste") in which Harwell's supporting players cast a surreal spell.

These tracks, though, are offset by dross such as "All Star," "Diggin' Your Scene," "Stoned," and "Come On Come On," all essentially being remakes of "Walkin' on the Sun." Astro Lounge ultimately fails to lift Smash Mouth above the alternapop fray populated by Sugar Ray, Matchbox 20, and Third Eye Blind. Like its peers, Smash Mouth makes music that is tuneful but ultimately inessential. If you rush to the store and buy this record, you might enjoy it before its spoil date. Better hurry.

-- Bruce Britt

Jack Logan
Buzz Me In
(Capricorn)

When Jack Logan tweaked the media's radar back in 1995, he was a publicist's dream: a Southern rocker who spent his days repairing swimming pool motors and his nights jamming with a band called Liquor Cabinet. Logan signed on to Peter Jesperson's Medium Cool label and released a 42-track debut, the appropriately titled Bulk, which reflected a fraction of his 600-song demo archive. Replete with air conditioners, barking dogs, and ambulance sirens, Bulk was hailed as the unpolished gem of the year.

The question that inevitably arose concerned Logan's abilities outside his living room. He had a chance to prove himself on 1996's substantially shorter (but no less impressive) Mood Elevator. Logan's songs were every bit as expressive and challenging and translated well to more ample production. But even Mood Elevator came with a caveat: the "studio" that Logan had utilized was a friend's barn in Indiana. The new question became: What does this guy have against a normal recording facility?

Two recent packages have further obscured the issue. Last year Logan teamed up with indie popper Bob Kimbell to release Little Private Angel, as well as the more recent erstwhile band effort Tinker, under the name Jack Logan's Compulsive Recorders. Both were raw demo affairs, and neither one came close to demonstrating Logan's studio props. If you're keeping score at home, that's four albums without really knowing what might happen with Jack Logan behind proper glass.

At long last someone with some sense over at Capricorn signed Logan and directed him to the Casino studio in Atlanta, owned and operated by former Clash manager Kosmo Vinyl, who produced Logan's first "official" sessions. In addition to all of his Liquor Cabinet cronies, Logan was further augmented by Tom Gray (ex-Brains), Anne Richmond Boston (ex-Swimming Pool Q's), and the amazing Vic Chesnutt. The resulting work, Buzz Me In, proves at the very least that Jack Logan knows his way around a studio.

Logan's Rolling Stones fixation was never in question and, in this structured environment, it manifests itself repeatedly. When Logan dials up the country sound ("Pearl of Them All," "Melancholy Girl"), you can almost hear the strains of Mick and Keith's "Girl With the Faraway Eyes." But when he cranks up the amps and goes for pure rock atmosphere ("Weren't Gone Long," "Metropolis," "Glorious World"), Logan surpasses the Stones references, swirling in equal parts of Paul Westerberg and Jeff Lynne. Logan's quieter passages, particularly the string-driven haunt of "Hit or Miss," show a delicacy and beauty that were only hinted at previously. The best thing about Buzz Me In is the realization that Logan's songs, and Logan himself, have benefited from the polishing process. He's no lo-fi savant but a huge talent with a long highway of potential ahead of him.

-- Brian Baker

 
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