Sugar Ray’s second release sours with unoriginality

Name your new album 14:59 (Atlantic) and your cheeky, self-deprecating prophecy just might ring true. The brazen title of Sugar Ray’s third full-length album only confirms the inevitable: This California fivesome’s 15 minutes of fame are about one second from expiring, and its album title isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

That said, the band’s latest album is, at least, a big improvement from its sophomore release, Floored, which had only one bright spot with the mega- platinum, fluff reggae hit “Fly.” While “Fly” did get people talking about Sugar Ray – even if only to say that the band’s a “one-hit-wonder” – the latest release surely won’t receive similarly zealous reactions.

The group claims it’s demonstrating a newfound maturity with the hip-hop infused, pop-lite album, 14:59. Well, Sugar Ray could’ve fooled me. In “Every Morning,” the first single off the album, Sugar Ray addresses relationship blame-games and infidelity. The song’s subject matter may reflect some growing up on the band’s behalf but, musically speaking, it’s a disappointing rip-off of “Fly.”

Much to the dismay of those who can see through the transparency of this band’s self-professed musical maturation, “Every Morning” is duplicating not only the sound of “Fly” but also its selling success. The single already is rapidly climbing Billboard’s Top 40 list and gaining radio airtime. “Fly” also seems to have been reincarnated again as the track “Someday,” which also will probably become an unavoidable fixture on the radio sometime soon.

Unoriginality strikes again with the incorporation of Craig “DJ Homicide” Bullock’s sampling and scratching into the breezy California tunes that suspiciously remind the listener of Sublime. Don’t be surprised. The album was produced by David Kahne who also produced Soul Coughing and Sublime.

And don’t expect the whole album to possess that same sunny, uppity rock feel that has been attracting listeners to “Fly” and “Every Morning.” In fact, get out a compass and an atlas because the rest of this album is all over the musical map – and unfortunately, Sugar Ray doesn’t know north from south.

When I popped the Sugar Ray CD in my discman, expecting to hear some more air-headed rock tunes such as “Fly,” I instead was assaulted with a pathetic excuse for 48 seconds of death-core. I hope the Sugar Ray boys were just being smart asses by including this brain-grinding track, but, doubtless, most listeners won’t get the joke. The track is called “New Direction,” which should be interpreted as some “new directions” for playing this CD: Immediately skip the first track upon insertion.

The rest of the album is dotted with similar odd-genre, half-joking tracks that distinguish themselves quite jarringly from the rest of the “Fly”-wannabe songs. Some of the oddball tracks include the Devo rip off, “Personal Space Invader,” and the straight Steve Miller Band cover, “Abracadabra” (also featured on the “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” soundtrack).The song “Aim For Me,” for example, is reminiscent of the Ramones and early punk but, of course, with the Sugar Ray saccharine coating. The title of the song makes me think singer Mark McGrath is asking someone to put him out of his crooning misery.

But, let’s not be so cruel. If it weren’t for darling McGrath’s mug, the band wouldn’t have attracted the majority of its female fan base, and Cosmopolitan wouldn’t have sold as many magazines when McGrath’s virile visage and signature streaks graced the cover.

So let’s give credit where credit is due. McGrath is still a hottie and “Fly” is still thriving in about three other tracks on 14:59. And you thought the boys from Orange County would be one-hit wonders. Shame on you. They’re two-hit wonders.

Sugar Ray will perform at the 9:30 Club Feb. 17.

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