In a post-Shrek, Internet-obsessed world, Smash Mouth has been somewhat relegated to meme status. There’s some upside to that, as it’s likely contributed to their bottom line and helped them retain relevance despite releasing only a single project in the last 17-odd years. The obvious downside, however, is that those familiar with the group are more likely to know the “don’t stop coming” edit of “All Star” than even the shallowest of deep cuts. And it’s a shame, because it just so happens that their 1997 debut, Fush Yu Mang, rocks pretty damn hard.
Years before their ogre-inspired cover of “I’m a Believer” became a primary pillar of their legacy, late frontman Steve Harwell was spending the early ‘90s making rap music with his group F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech). It wasn’t until his manager and future Smash Mouth drummer Kevin Coleman introduced him to Greg Camp and Paul De Lisle that the idea for Smash Mouth (originally Smashmouth) was born.
Camp and De Lisle, for their part, came from the California punk scene, previously playing together in the local band Lackadaddy. With their punk experience and Harwell’s growing disinterest in creating hip-hop, the project quickly took to the ska-punk sound popular at the time. Fast tempos and ferocious performances came together with dub-influenced rhythms and melodies, resulting in songs that sound specifically designed for a party at a skate park. Coming from a bombastic hip-hop background, Harwell was seemingly tailor-made to tackle the fusion of punk snarl and reggae MC.
“Wait,” you might be saying to yourself, “Ska-punk? I’ve listened to Astro Lounge, and punk seems like a generous term.” And to you, my friend, I say look no further than the album art for Fush Yu Mang. See that checkered border? I rest my case.
Though the band’s biggest hits may exist outside of their punk roots, the vast majority of Fush Yu Mang tells a different story: one of a group of young dudes with a knack for good vibes, memorable melodies, and ripping tunes. Opener “Flo” kicks off like a Green Day song, looping three power chords before upstroked guitars take over to force everyone within a five-mile radius to start skankin’. Play it for your friends and tell them it’s a Jeff Rosenstock song, and they just might believe you.
Tracks like “Let’s Rock,” “Pet Names,” and “Nervous in the Alley” find similar success mining the classic ska-punk formula. Each swings back and forth between big distorted guitar chords and horn-backed dance breaks. Meanwhile, their cover of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” and the woozy, hazed “Walkin’ on the Sun” showcases the band fully embracing reggae-inspired pop – and to some pretty damn good results.