The first ever Weekly Badge of Musical Promotion Courage goes to Sugar Ray’s representatives, who recently suggested we check out the new album by the ’90s juggernaut “because you’ve covered the band over the years.”
That’s ballsy given much of that coverage. Formed in the mid-1980s as The Tories before changing their name to Shrinky Dinks and later Shrinky Dinx, the band out Newport Beach became Sugar Ray before the 1995 release of their first album Lemonade and Brownies. They vaulted to fame two years later with the mega-hit “Fly” off their sophomore effort Floored.
However, having tracked the band since the pre-Sugar Ray days, Weekly music writers and editors never bought in because their sound changed from funk punk to hardcore punk to hair metal to funk metal to rap rock to power pop to whatever else was getting airplay at the moment. Some call that business savvy, others characterize it as musical growth but most around the Weekly offices took it as lack of soul.
And so it was, by our Oct. 28, 1999, list of “Orange County’s 31 Scariest People,” Sugar Ray frontman and the pride of Corona del Mar High Mark McGrath found himself at No. 21. The dings kept coming and did not let up with time. Consider Angelica Leicht’s contribution that closed out the Weekly‘s roundup of “The 10 Lamest Bands of the ‘90s.”
Every single song from Sugar Ray gives me the heebie-geebies. Like, literally every song. There’s something about Mark McGrath’s voice that is like an itch that cannot be scratched, and “Someday” is the worst itch of the entire catalog, although they’re all a close second in terms of annoyance. Perhaps they should have stayed a funk-metal band, which is where their sound originated from, because anything would be better than the junk they put out.
Sugar Ray later migrated to our news section via Moxley Confidential’s “Mark McGrath Sued by Founding Sugar Ray Members Who Claim He Cheated on Band Profits.” (McGrath and lead guitarist/backing vocalist Rodney Sheppard are the only remaining original members; drummer Stan Frazier and bassist Murphy Karges split in 2012.)
What best sums up the Weekly‘s overall coverage of the band is our most recent headline before today’s, from July 8, 2014, which posed the question: “Does Sugar Ray Actually Suck?”
Which brings us to the new album Little Yachty. McGrath has said in interviews that the title references rapper Lil Yachty and the fact that the frontman/actor/TV personality has Sugar Ray latched onto another new sound: yacht rock.
You can definitely hear island rhythms in “Highest Tree,” the first Little Yachty single that was released in June. Also on the album, which is now out on BMG, is the piña colada pop of “Coconut Bay,” which brings to mind the Beach Boys’ late-career hit “Kokomo.” Both songs rely on steel drummin’, mon, as well as forgettable lyrics (“Kokomo”: We’ll put out to sea and we’ll perfect our chem-is-try; “Coconut Bay”: Swimming in the sea in perfect har-mon-y). Then there’s the cover of the actual Piña Colada Song, “Escape”:
“Trouble” sounds like something you’d hear from a young country act attempting to crossover into pop, while “Good Good Loving” could be a solid track for a boy band pushing boundaries into ska. “Sunday Love” blasts back to the Sugar Ray past of aping contempories, thanks to Coldplayesque “ooohhh-whoaaaa-ooohhh” background vocals and English Beat instrumentals.
Little Yachty is not horrible. It is well produced. It’s packed with solid musicianship. It would make good background tunes for a late summer pool party. Just don’t expect any guests to ask you to turn up the volume on the way to the onion dip.
And congratulations, inaugural Weekly Badge of Musical Promotion Courage recipients.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.