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* * * 1/2 SMASH MOUTH "Smash Mouth" \o7 Interscope\f7

November 25, 2001|Natalie Nichols

It's easy to consider Smash Mouth a lightweight if enjoyable pop act with a bankable knack for reconstituting '60s-style hooks into such mega-hits as "Walkin' on the Sun" and "All Star." The perception is underscored on its third album (due Tuesday), which contains its typically exuberant remake of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer," a highlight of the "Shrek" soundtrack.

But the San Jose group's lyrics belie that image. As on those hit songs, here leader Steve Harwell consistently flips hip platitudes in ways that lament style over substance and blind belief in the status quo, insisting that listeners tune in to the information-overload blur of modern culture with their brains fully engaged.

Using the same mix-and-match sonic formula, the band satisfactorily varies the ingredients, this time mining '70s funk-soul grooves for such standouts as the disco-flavored "Pacific Coast Party." Yet the songs are still peppered with breezy, Ramones-like commentary that's both silly and deep. "Are we in our finest hour or headed for disaster?" asks Harwell in "Sister Psychic," a jokey homage to TV clairvoyant Miss Cleo that mocks Americans' obsession with knowing the future. It's also somewhat poignant in the wake of Sept. 11.

Adding depth are such rare somber notes as the pensive, harmonica-flavored "Out of Sight," a not-unexpected turn following such personal travails as the death of Harwell's infant son from lymphatic leukemia last summer. But although Smash Mouth never hesitates to acknowledge the negative, this clever batch of tunes works hard to accentuate the positive.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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