Sound: Its been over a decade since Sugar Ray first defined summer soundtracks with easy-going songs such as Fly, Someday, and Every Morning, and its safe to say that never again will they enjoy such prominence. While some bands or artists would take a moment to re-evaluate their careers and perhaps decided this is the time call it quits or totally redefine themselves, not so with Sugar Ray. Mark McGrath and company are obviously quite comfortable with their identities, not so much just recognizing their place in music but totally embracing it with open arms and running with it. Like their fans, Sugar Ray's music is starting to show clear signs of age, hence the album's rather lame title, which in truth really sums it all up - Music for Cougars.
Musically, Sugar Ray has stayed true to form over the years, churning out one radio friendly song after another, thanks in large part to the persistence of every original member. Spearheaded by vocalist Mark McGrath (perhaps now better known or more recognizable for his TV work with networks like VH1 and even hosting such shows as Extra), the band, including DJ Homicide and guitarist Rodney Sheppard, returns to their lazy, laid-back grooves and feel-good style. Songs like Girls Were Made to Love, Boardwalk, and Love 101, seem to be readymade tunes for movie soundtracks and commercials, conjuring dreams of kicking back with a beer on white-sand beaches.
While the album is dominated by a relaxed, easy-going feel (so much so that the songs begin to run together for lack of uniqueness), there are departures from this, particularly found in what I found to be the better songs on the album. The catchy, guitar driven Going Nowhere and pop-rock gem Rainbow sound leftover from 2001's self-titled album, an altogether heavier, more rock-oriented effort. The strangest (and frankly confusing) parts of the album, however, come when Sugar Ray opts to try and capitalize on current electro/pop/dance sounds. With electronic drums, loud synthesizers, and a heavily Auto Tuned voice, Closer sounds like it would be much more comfortable on a Timbaland or Katy Perry album while Last Days sounds like something ripped off of Metro Station or hellogoodbye. Simply put, these songs just don't fit. // 5
Lyrics: Similar to the archetypal musical style, the singing and lyricism on the album stays true to the tried-and-true examples set by Sugar Ray back in the 90's. The lyrics are very simple fare, sticking primarily to tried-and-true messages of love, memories, and happiness, while Mark McGrath's raspy vocals convey a sense of pure fun and relaxation. There's no urgency to the singing, but then again there's no urgent message to deliver. The entire album is about kicking back, having a good time, and remembering the past. McGrath's carefree, gentle swagger was staple of 90's pop rock, so it's a shame when they opt to follow in the footsteps of T-Pain and lean heavily on Auto Tune for effect. The results are disastrous, becoming the most sour moments on the record. // 5
Overall Impression: No, Music for Cougars won't make any best of the year lists. It's nothing new, it's nothing cutting edge, and it's nothing trendy. But that's precisely where it succeeds it doesn't try to be (or frankly even pretend to be) anything that it's not. It's simple; it's classic; it's just standard Sugar Ray. Sure, the band waded into the shallows of newer territories (dance rock), but clearly the water was cold, and they went right back to the classic mold. It's not a great album by any stretch of the imagination, and, to be honest, it isn't really even good. Nothing on Music for Cougars will make your jaw drop, but that works for Sugar Ray. They aren't here to win over a new generation of fans or push the limits of their musical abilities, instead opting to work very comfortably within their means. In the most pure sense possible, they seem to have accepted they're past their prime, but they're still loving every minute of it. If nothing else, they're just happy making the music that they love. // 5
- Chris McDonald (c) 2009