Sugar Ray

Sugar Ray

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By their fourth album, Sugar Ray had developed a real ease to their music. Starting with "Fly," they no longer tried so hard to rock -- they no longer tried to ape the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- and began relaxing into a sun-kissed, laid-back groove, the kind of music where even the fast numbers powered by distorted guitars don't necessarily sound heavy. This came to the forefront on 14:59, but it blossoms on that album's follow-up, Sugar Ray. Where 14:59 was a little self-conscious and jokey (culminating in a cover of Steve Miller's "Abracadabra"), Sugar Ray feels easy and natural, so it's easy to smile at the reference to Run-D.M.C.instead of cringing. And that'sthe key to the record -- it's relaxed, utterly without pretension, and often charmingly melodic. Sure, there are some cuts that fall flat, but this record is more consistent than any of their previous albums, thanks not only to a stronger set of material, but the fact that the band is gelling as a band, which makes even the missteps easier to listen to. Best of all, the band never runs from their past, adding another great summer single to their arsenal with "When It's Over" (easily the equal of "Fly" and "Every Morning"), while even sampling "Every Morning" on "Ours." All this doesn't make Sugar Ray seem new, but there's charm to their performances, which make the album seen fresh, all the same. For a supposed one-hit wonder, it's remarkable that they've released their best album four records into their career.

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