On Scattered, Smothered and Covered, Hootie & the Blowfish’s new album of cover songs, the band seems to be under the impression that any song that deserved to be recorded (and some that didn’t) deserves to be rerecorded by them. Why else release (and now rerelease) a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do?” Was the original not good enough? Was there great demand to hear one of rock’s greatest rhythm sections interpreted by one of it’s feeblest?
I know the excuses Hootie would use if they were here right now. They’d say that they made this album for the fans, not for doubting Thomases like me; that they even let the fans help chose the songs. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. The album has to stand on it’s own; if the fans like it, that’s their business. And how much of a service did Hootie perform for their fans by letting them vote for their favorite tracks on a Budweiser-sponsored web site? Nothing like letting the kids enjoy some beer ads then pay 15 bucks for a memento of the experience. Round these parts that’s known as a marketing synergy.
But on to the music: In fact, not all of it’s bad. The opener, “Fine Line” by Radney Foster, is country sludge rock that would be very much at home on Steve Earle’s excellent album, El Corazon. “I Go Blind” is a light radio hit that may not stand up to repeated listening but is pleasant and poppy enough on its own. A version of Tom Waits’ “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” is successful mostly cause the song itself is indestructible. It also helps that it’s one of the few songs that dispenses with the band’s dull as dirt rhythm section . . . although how the Hootie-files pick where to cheer maniacally is anybody’s guess. Maybe the applause light was shorting out.
But for every good moment on Scattered, there are two unmitigated disasters: A cover of REM’s “Driver 8” manages to suck all the fun out of jangle pop. Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” suffers heartily from the absence of Roy Orbison—or at the very least, Chris ISAAC. The Smith’s “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” is rendered faithfully to the point of futility. Though if nothing else it does give the album a clear vocal nadir; cause only Johnny Cash could get away with doing Morrisey this straight.
Scattered, Smothered and Covered is not a good record. And it’s hard to love an album that smacks so clearly of opportunism. And with three releases in seven years, Hootie & the Blowfish is hardly the most prolific band in the world. And Scattered just might be their laziest effort yet—they didn’t even have to write any songs for it. So I appreciate that the band paid their dues years ago, but these guys must wake up every day giggling.