TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The band Hootie & the Blowfish became popular in 1994 after the release of their album "Cracked Rear View." The band broke up in 2008 and lead singer Darius Rucker launched a successful new career as a country music act. Now the band has reunited and released its first new album in more than a decade. It's called "Imperfect Circle." Rock critic Ken Tucker places the band in perspective for 2019.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD ON")
HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH: (Singing) Only heartbreak on the 6 o'clock news. They ought to call it the 6 o'clock blues. Seems like this whole world's going wrong. That ain't no kind of love song. Now, we gotta hold on. We gotta hold on. There ain't nothing that a little love can't get us through. Now, we gotta hold on...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: We live in an age of overstatement and overpraise. Something isn't merely good; it's awesome. A movie or a TV show isn't just enjoyable; it's epic. Any performer over the age of 30 who manages to do good work isn't just a solid professional; he or she is an icon.
In this atmosphere, the reforming of Hootie & the Blowfish, icons of the '90s, has been met with a certain amount of what we used to simply call hype. I'm thinking of a piece in Esquire earlier this year, whose headline summed up its argument - How Our Cruelty Killed Hootie & the Blowfish and Damaged Our Souls. Oh, my goodness. And I'm thinking of the recent New York Times piece that tried to make the argument that Hootie is a, quote-unquote, "great American rock band." That's simply not so. But that also doesn't mean that they're not very pleasurable to listen to.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YEAR'S DAY")
HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH: (Singing) From the second that you walked in, everything about me changed. Though I don't know where you've been, I know I'll never be the same. Hear the heartbeat in my chest, makes me feel I'm bulletproof. Whatever happens is worth the risk. I got a feeling. You feel it too. Come on, baby. Let me take your breath away. Forget about our worries. That was yesterday. Make a toast to all those champagne castaways. Come on, babe, let's kiss just like it's New Year's Day.
TUCKER: That's "New Year's Day" from the band's new comeback album, "Imperfect Circle." This collection manages the tricky challenge of sounding like classic Hootie while also extending the group's sound for the 21st century. For example, lead singer Darius Rucker always had a pleasant, deep growl of a voice. Think of the way he bellowed the titles of their old hits like "Hold My Hand" and "Only Want To Be With You." But his recent years as a country singer have given his vocals a more warm, buttery tone that's on display here.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONELY ON A SATURDAY NIGHT")
HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH: (Singing) I just can't believe you're here alone, sitting in a corner while the party's going on. My heart made my feet walk up to you. There's so many things that we could do. Someone like you shouldn't be lonely. Someone like you shouldn't be lonely. Someone like you shouldn't be lonely, lonely on a Saturday night. Oh, yeah, yeah.
TUCKER: Hootie's highly successful reunion tour this past summer was called the Group Therapy Tour, and they sound as though they've made peace with their past as a classic frat party band formed at the University of South Carolina. At the time of their superstardom in the '90s, Hootie & the Blowfish were a warm contrast to the harshness of grunge and gangsta rap, and they were scorned for that. Now they're warm contrast to the harshness of a country that's tense and divided. They allude to the current situation in a mild protest song called "Turn It Up."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN IT UP")
HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH: (Singing) Once there was a thankless leader blinded by a golden ring. Now there's no more peaceful gatherings. Take me across the aisle now, baby. Let me see how y'all get down. Take a hopeful sound and make it loud. I said, turn it up when I've had enough. I want to feel the love. Turn it up.
TUCKER: "Turn It Up" also serves as a reminder that Hootie & the Blowfish were always a little more aware of things then they were given credit for. Talking about their first big hit, "Hold My Hand," in a recent interview, Rucker said, for me, that song has always been about racism. And he's discussed, frankly, what it's been like to be an African American singing to the predominantly white audiences of rock and country music's.
It doesn't sound like Hootie & the Blowfish is back to being a permanent thing. Rucker says he'll return to making solo country music again soon. But "Imperfect Circle" isn't a cynical, one-off cash grab either. It's a well-made, frequently thoughtful album. It's not an awesome, epic icon. It's the sound of grown-ups grappling with the responsibilities of adulthood while never denying themselves some pleasure.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed the new album from Hootie & the Blowfish called "Imperfect Circle." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, what does Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have to say about Trump, Putin and the impeachment hearings? Last Saturday, a small group of reporters sat down with the Ukrainian president for an hour-long interview. One of them was Time correspondent Simon Shuster, who has also been reporting on connections between Trump, his allies and Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. He'll join us from Kyiv tomorrow. I hope you'll join us.
Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.