Ask anyone who was there in the halcyon days of Y2K what it was like, what it was really like, to live through the changing of the millennium, and they'll answer you this: you couldn't escape that damned "All Star" song. Anywhere you turned -- radio, TV, movies, movie trailers, advertisements, sports games -- all you heard was Smash Mouth's irrepressible ode to clueless losers, a self-empowerment anthem for the ignorant and entitled (really, it was a tune ahead of its time, since it easily could have been mood music for the Paris Hilton era). For a couple of years there, Smash Mouth seemed ubiquitous, though in retrospect they only had a few big hits: "All Star," its peerless predecessor "Walkin' on the Sun," "Then the Morning Comes," and "Diggin' Your Scene," plus covers of Let's Active's "Every Word Means No," the Four Seasons/Fun Boy Three's "Can't Get Enough of You Baby," and the Monkees' "I'm a Believer." That's more than most bands have, but doesn't quite explain why it seemed as if Smash Mouth were impossible to shake for a few years at the turn of the millennium. Then, a closer inspection of the liner notes to their first hits collection, All Star Smash Hits (well, what else was it going to be called?), reveals an answer. There are songs from the following movies and soundtracks on this comp: Mystery Men, Baseketball, Snow Day, Can't Hardly Wait, Friends Again, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Me Myself & Irene, Pacific Coast Highway, Shrek, Austin Powers: Goldmember, and The Cat in the Hat. That's more than half of this generous 20-track collection, and it doesn't even come close to representing all of the soundtracks and collections featuring Smash Mouth -- it misses such gems as Another Rosie Christmas, 2000's Digimon soundtrack, Jailbait! Music from the MTV Original TV Movie, 2001's Rat Race, 2002's Clockstoppers, 2003's The Jungle Book 2. No wonder they seemed like they were everywhere: they were! They seemed to accept any offer that came their way, including gigs like, say, Radio Disney, that most bands would be happy to leave behind. But, no, Smash Mouth happily took the work, becoming pop culture white noise in the process -- music that was easy to tune out while still registering subconsciously.
To be given so many opportunities to sell out the band had to be good enough -- good enough to sell their hooks, but not distinctive enough to cause waves. All Star Smash Hits proves that the group was indeed good enough, arguably better than Sugar Ray, their closest rival among SoCal ska-punk/metal bands to shamelessly grab the brass ring. Sugar Ray rocked harder and were more diverse, but Smash Mouth found their groove -- a summery update on pre-Beatles frat rock as learned via Animal House, early-'80s T&A movies, and new wave -- early on and then stayed in it, aided by Greg Camp's lean, tuneful, hooky songwriting and good taste in covers. They didn't have any real standouts apart from those aforementioned hits, but they always delivered cheerful, relaxed party music that makes the time go by smoothly and speedily. They never made a bad album, but they hardly made a memorable one, either, and that applies to this hits compilation. It's far better than cynics would suspect -- and it's surely nice to have all the big hits in one place, even if smaller singles like the Neil Diamond-written "You Are My Number One" are missing (maybe that didn't make the cut because 25 was the closest it got to number one on the charts) -- and it's always good-hearted fun, but it's also too long, which makes it less memorable as a whole. So it's a bit like summer itself -- wondrous at first, so good that you wish it would never end, but by its conclusion, you're ready for the fall. Such an arc is appropriate for a band that provided the soundtrack for every summer between 1997 and 2001. [A couple of other fun things about All Star Smash Hits. Seven of the 20 songs are covers. Head songwriter Greg Camp is billed as Gregory Camp for all the selections from their debut but Greg Camp for everything else --- which is kind of strange, because songwriters usually get pompous and use their full name after they have success (music reviewers, on the other hand, start out pompous, using their full names from the get-go).]
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo