From the bedazzling harmonies of the Beach Boys to the ska-tinged froth of No Doubt, California pop has always been a balm for hammock swingers everywhere, the EZ-does-it antidote to rock’s black-and-blue world.
Despite a name that conjures mud-splattered gladiators, Smash Mouth are inheritors of that laid-back Cali tradition, purveyors of endless-summer trifles such as ”All Star” and ”Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” that suggest this quartet knows how to waste away a Venice Beach afternoon with the best of them. They’re a reliable singles band and a godsend for surf-obsesssed mixtape specialists. But their allure can’t quite sustain an entire CD, and Get the Picture? won’t alter that perception. Smash Mouth are on cruise control for most of their fourth album, which barely breaks a sweat over 37 minutes of breezy melodies, throwaway lyrics, and solo-free arrangements.
Smash Mouth are best when they’re at a Jamaican-vacation simmer (”You Are My Number One,” with guest toasting by ex-English Beat vocalist Ranking Roger) or when they indulge their fetish for vintage instrumental sounds and vocal flourishes: rinky-dink organ straight out of ”96 Tears” (”New Planet”), terse Zombies-like guitar riffs (the ”Tell Her No” voicings of ”Space Man”), and wordless harmonies that suggest Jan and Dean by way of honorary Californians the B-52’s (”105”). Sometimes they simply resort to copying themselves, retooling the ”Walkin’ on the Sun” groove that worked so well in 1997 (”Hot”). Smash Mouth’s no-sweat approach means they prefer to stroll rather than stomp. The singsongy melodies slide past agreeably, as if the whole point is to keep the bumps – and the surprises – to a minimum.
Singer Steve Harwell is well-suited for his job as the gruff yet affable party host. He looks like the guy who tunes up transmissions at the service station, and he sings like a blue-collar beachcomber. He drops a few names (Letterman, ”Sopranos”) and spouts clichés by the fistful (he both advocates catching a tiger by its tail and throwing in the towel on ”Hang On”). Even his road rage on ”105” sounds positively mellow, and he develops the mildest case of teen angst since Danny and the Juniors went to the hop in ”Seventh Grade Dance.” The word fun doesn’t show up in every song, but it could. With Harwell and company leading the way, even behind the darkest clouds, there’s always another mimosa waiting.