90s Score: 7.5/10
2020 Score: 5/10
When I was kid Smash Mouth was unironically my favourite band. I owned their first three albums, wore them out, and then after age eleven never listened to them again. Maybe I got wise. Maybe it was having to hear their three biggest hits in every movie from 1999 to 2002. Most likely, like most teenagers, Smash Mouth just wasn’t angsty enough for me, so in shame, I stuffed them in a box with Who Let the Dogs Out and Hamsterdance: The Album. The thing is Smash Mouth aren’t as bad as music nerds like me will have you believe, not that they are underrated music geniuses either. Astro Lounge was the album I turned to most, and after re-examining it years later, it DOES have more to offer than that one humongous hit that will be forever drunkenly shouted off-key at every karaoke session ever until the end of time.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. I love “All Star!” Is it overplayed and kind of stupid? Ohhhhh, yes! We all know the words, but have you ever closely looked at them? The second verse strongly alludes to global warming and how the world is going to shit. The solution given is to be famous, extravagant, and just have fun! It reeks of a rich Californian hippie who isn’t aware of their privilege. If someone asks for change and your response is “we could all use a little chaaaaaange!” don’t be surprised if you get punched. And yet… every time I hear this song, I can’t help grinning like an idiot. It’s damn near impossible not to sing along to that chorus. It’s perfect pop. It does exactly what it sets out to do and it has that magical ability to turn off the analytical part of your brain.
The rest of Astro Lounge is not as bad as you might think except “Radio” and “Stoned.” Those songs shouldn’t be on here. “Radio” sees the band unconvincingly attempt to do straight-up punk. Yuck. “Stoned” is about the joys of smoking pot, and for some reason is delivered as a straight-faced anthem, as if the pothead protagonist is being oppressed for his life choices. Boo-fucking-hoo. There is also a guitar solo that sounds like a child making armpit noises and a verse where frontman Steve Harwell puts on a Jamaican accent. Very cringy stuff.
Smash Mouth were at their best when they stuck to their style, which truly was unique before they turned into a soundtrack band. The strongest tracks here are the ones that follow the 60s psychedelic pop meets 90s alternative template set up by previous hit “Walking on The Sun.” It’s a damn shame “Then The Morning Comes” has been overshadowed because it was a big hit in its day, a worthy successor, and is deserving of reassessment. There are more hooks in that thing than your average pop song is allowed. The album’s most surprising moment is “Waste” which takes the formula and makes a heartfelt ballad out of it. I can’t believe it wasn’t a bigger hit.
“Diggin’ Your Scene,” “Come On, Come On,” and a cover of Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “Can’t Enough of You Baby” are also pretty darn infectious and worth checking out; they prove that Astro Lounge isn’t merely the album with “All Star” on it even if there is still A LOT of filler. If like me you grew up on this stuff, the nostalgic value alone is worth dusting this off. If you’re new to it though, you might be thinking “man, we’re the 90s weird…”
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy