[Hype Hype Hooray] How Frightened Rabbit Could Turn Into Smash Mouth

Every [two weeks?] Jamie Hale takes a long, hard look at the music industry and the blog scene that feeds it. Here, he releases those findings and makes snarky, sarcastic remarks. Admittedly, both Jamie and Knox Road are a part of this scene. So sue us.

I used to LOVE Smash Mouth. I will still attest to anybody willing to listen that both their first album, Fush Yu Mang, and their followup, Astro Lounge, are two fantastic, albeit very different albums. I remember pacing around my living room with the liner notes, memorizing the lyrics to “Walkin’ On The Sun” and “All Star.” My family listened to them on beach vacations and summer cookouts, and after seeing them twice live, my dad was known for a while by the band as “that guy in the yellow hat.” So when Smash Mouth came out with their cover of The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” in 2001, I was naturally heartbroken.

I did what many early fans of popular bands do when their style changes, I cried “sell outs!” and turned my back on them forever. (I even made an awful early 2000s template website called “Smash Mouth Sucks!”). Did Smash Mouth sell out? Of course they did. In a terrible fashion that may have lost the band members their careers in music. But can you blame them? It’s hard to.

But fans of semi-veteran band Frightened Rabbit and newcomer Cults might have those two venomous words on the tips of their tongues. Last week Frightened Rabbit announced a deal with Atlantic Records while Cults signed with Columbia. It’s a little unusual for such big labels to pick up indie acts, but not so unusual for the bands to accept. The conversation probably went like this: Big Label: “Money? Monnnneeyyy??” The Band: “WE ARE POOR. GOD. YES. PLEASE.”

Can you hate them for it? I guess we’ll just have to see. It’s no secret that big labels like to place more restrictions on bands in the studio, and the result can often be something much more mainstream (read: worse) than the band’s previous work. Weezer, Green Day and No Doubt are all artists who people like to call out for this apparently egregious act. But without the big labels, those musicians wouldn’t have found such a large audience and would have faded into obscurity, probably working security at your suburban Macys.

With Frightened Rabbit, the outcome will likely be pretty predictable. Their next album (probably out in 2011 or 2012) will sound much like their older material, only slicker and easier on the top 40 radio station listener’s ears. I doubt very much it will be edgier and an attempt at redefining their sound for any kind of artistic good. But that’s not to say it will be any worse. “Don’t throw stones at those who throw stones against you,” or whatever.

Cults, on the other hand has only a couple of singles by which to define their sound. The stuff they record with Columbia (including their debut album) will be how most people know them. So they could likely end up a lot more like the Ting Tings, who started as an underground buzz act and rose quickly to commercial success at the expense of positive critical reception. Cults’ next album will probably be something you can sell cars or computers with. Catchy, poppy and a little edgier than whatever Lady Gaga is recording.

So the likely outcome of these new contracts probably doesn’t mean much good for fans and bloggers who have been praising these two bands to no end. But it will definitely mean something more positive for the members of the bands. I know that I would just love a way to pay off all my debt very quickly for doing the same thing I’m doing now. To say Frightened Rabbit and Cults are “selling out” is a little harsh for my taste, but to say they’re “taking a deal that will help them financially at the potential risk of losing some fans and critical respect” is about on par. Good luck, guys.

6 comments to [Hype Hype Hooray] How Frightened Rabbit Could Turn Into Smash Mouth

  • I like what you have to say here. I commented on the sellout phenom earlier this year: “As(music)collectors, some of us, present company included, want the music we extol to be celebrated, but not overtly so. Quite the conundrum, isn’t it? Dare I get started on dissecting the über-fan’s rationale behind reclassifying a ‘hip band’ as ‘sellout band’ the barometer of which is increasing popularity? No way, as it would force me to look into the mirror a little too deeply. The aforementioned details are mysterious, reek of selfishness and, though not as much as they did 15 years ago, describe me to the core. Perhaps not all of you, but I have no problem admitting my insanity.” -A’s Road, March 5, 2010

    Jamie Reply:

    YES. Awesome.

  • Scooter

    I’m actually pretty worried for Frightened Rabbit. Winter of Mixed Drinks was a good album, but took a slight step away from Midnight Organ Fight towards a more polished, and less fractured, sound. Their guitar-driven style could very easily transition into Billboard success, at the cost of quality.

    However, I don’t quite know what you mean about Smashmouth’s early sound. “All Star” and “Walking on the Sun” are pure major-radio songs, from the moments they were written. Also, at the “sellout” moment you name for them with the Monkey’s cover, they didn’t rise to even greater stardom, but instead faded into obscurity….

    Still, let’s hope Frightened Rabbit continue to churn out their lovely gems!

    Jamie Reply:

    Well a lot of the material off Smash Mouth’s debut album was more abrasive and less radio friendly. You could say that their first “sellout” moment was when they did Astro Lounge, and you would be right. But Astro Lounge was a terrific record. So my “sellout” moment for them was when they stopped making quality music in exchange for (an attempt at) bigger commercial success. Also, my logic was that of a ten-year-old. So.

    Lee Reply:


    abby Reply:

    I heard Smash Mouth’s music because I couldn’t avoid hearing them in every bar I walked into back in the day. I really never considered them being anything other than a radio-friendly band, lauded by frat boys nationwide. If I owned their records I suppose I might think differently. Honestly, what I am really trying to do is wrap my brain around the fact that you were 10 when their debut was released. :headdesk: