Newport Beach doesn’t raise no quitters. Sugar Ray first presented themselves in 1995 as horn-dog pop funksters with Lemonade and Brownies and were roundly ignored.
Floored appeared two years later with a gloss of self-parodying Swingers hip, and the lilting “Fly” took wing, planting band mouthpiece Mark McGrath’s chiseled cheekbones and parti-colored hair in front of every camera or mike that would pause long enough to listen to him joshingly appreciate his group’s success. Having been tagged nobodies and one-hit wonders, Sugar Ray got both mad and even, releasing 14:59 – their position on the clock of fleeting fame – and shaking down the spring-break crowd once again with “Every Morning.”
And here they come again, insisting that self-deprecating party bands never have to go away. Sugar Ray drifts further from the group’s early aggro-pop sound; it’s about girls and fun, cushy with melodies and McGrath’s earthy, inconsistent vocals. Their laid-back attitude is infectiously unfussy: “That would make her ours,” McGrath muses without rancor about a girl he unwittingly shared on “Ours.” “Under the Sun” is unapologetically breezy and heartfelt nostalgia for the new-wave SoCal of the Eighties, and its earnestness pounds the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lugubrious “Under the Bridge” into the dirt.
Not quitters, nor are they fools: Although it’s getting a trifle elderly to hear “Fly” endlessly reconfigured like the Rubik’s Cube it turned out to be, that song is all over Sugar Ray – on “Stay On,” featuring 311’s Nick Hexum; on the shimmery “Just a Little,” its descending chorus made for clapping along. The first single, “When It’s Over,” reprises the syncopated beat that made “Fly” so inextricable, without the idiosyncratic tinniness. And Sugar Ray are as uncynical as a band can be after three records and some critical drubbings: They even rawk, with a self-conscious whip of the hair toward the lipstick metal of their favorite era, on the closer, “Disasterpiece.” Sugar Ray’s influences run from sterling – the Clash, KRS-One (who made a cameo on 14:59) – to Day-Glo (those new-wave Australian bands), but they pull the sounds together with the glee of teens collecting cool stuff – shells, coins and half-empty beer bottles – from a baking Southside beach.