Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Review: Mark McGrath - Summertime's Coming [2015]

For those who don't know, especially if you're not American, Mark McGrath is the leading face of alternative pop rockers, Sugar Ray, famous for such hits as Fly, When It's Over and, my first introduction to the band back in '99, the radio smash Every Morning. I remember the latter hit but didn't actually like it at the time. A little later on in life, I discovered that the band had heavier beginnings with the likes of Lemonade and Brownies, which is still one of my favourite albums. As well as still touring with Sugar Ray, McGrath has essentially established himself as a very pretty man over the years. His looks (and, yeh ok, his personality, too) helped him get into TV presenting, including Killer Karaoke, and acting, including Shaknado 2. I'm unsure if the latter is much to be praised for. 
  This year, McGrath has dropped his FIRST EVER solo offering in the form of the Summertime's Coming EP. For anyone familiar with Sugar Ray, this is actually not too much of a stretch from their sound. In a similar way to Gwen Stefani's solo work, McGrath has gone down the route of his band's more poppy and sunny anthems to produce a five song summer soundtrack.

  There's been many an act who have released summer anthems and it has either made them or broke them. Canadians LEN, another favourite of mine, made a name for themselves out of nowhere with the poptastic smash hit Steal My Sunshine, despite being initially an alt rock and shoegaze influenced band. On the other hand, saxophone wielding hardcore punk outfit Dog Eat Dog (looove theeeem) had the song Summertime on their Walk With Me album. Via it's music video on Youtube, the band got ridiculed for having "sold out" and having generally made a "shit song". (I like it.) Seeing as Sugar Ray, like LEN and also bands like Smashmouth, made their muller out of songs to cruise beside the beach to, these songs on here should be no real surprise to dedicated fans and I for one am not all that disappointed on the whole. 
   Opening song, title track and leading single (I think?), Summertime's Coming, gets you in a barbecue mood right from the start. We've got happy acoustic guitar strumming, a laid back hip hop beat, hand clapping, lahs, ohs and a catchy as hell chorus. Out of all the sunny pop songs that Sugar Ray has ever done, and maybe that anyone ever did, this has to be the most formulaic song to date. This doesn't mean that it's bad. It might be cliche and, to some, even cheesy, but, damn, it's uplifting. That "Summertime's coming, lala lala" chorus is totally infectious. Upon research, this song has actually been in Sugar Ray's live repertoire since 2013 when they were working on new songs. This begs the question: Why has this come out as a McGrath solo track and not on a brand new Sugar Ray album? Also, why is there no new Sugar Ray album? Are there band issues right now?
   Last track, It's Always Sunny, has the same vibe as the first song. It starts off as if it is going to be old fashioned and doo wop-like, but then it becomes happy and upbeat with a chorus you might end up singing for days afterwards. What The World Needs and Again and Again have more of a reggae/ska flavour that, for some reason, just don't get me all that pumped. They're both beautiful with a sweet sentiment. What The World Needs sort of reminds me of NOFX's pure reggae/ska version of Rancid's Radio; it has that same sort of pace and the same joyous sing-along, but really just seems cheesy in comparison. It's heavily Marley influenced, even incorporating the "woy yoy yoy" melody of Buffalo Soldier (or it could be the Banana Splits theme tune) near the end of the song. Again and Again has more of a 311 (great band) feel about it but the kind of 311 that I tend to not like so much. Just a little too slow and, frankly, a tad boring. It's nice and chill and would be great to lie in the sun to but could easily put you to sleep. The guitar parts add a little Santana feel but the song generally lacks power most of the time.
  Ease My Mind is somewhere between the two styles; the bouncy alt pop with a hip hop beat and the slow pop reggae. It's slow and chilled with a bit of a Latin vibe. The hip hop rhythm and the vocal melodies work well together to make it another sunshiny hit. I am almost certain that there is also a deliberate nod to Green Day as McGrath sings line like "It all comes back to you.." in the style of "It all keeps adding up..." from Basket Case. Could be coincidental, but it's a BIG coincidence. 

   If you've ever liked Sugar Ray, or similar acts like Smashmouth, LEN or Fastball, and, of course, if you simply like Mark McGrath, this is worth checking out and is definitely great for a sunny day. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more effort put into a new Sugar Ray album as opposed to this EP. At least three of the five songs here would have worked just as well on an album amongst more rocky numbers; a mix that always pleases me when done right. I hope there technically still is a band right now...  


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