Hearing New Heights: Hootie and the Blowfish
Revisiting Cracked Rear View in an all new immersive format.
By Ben Jacklin
Cracked Rear View was one of the bestselling albums of the 1990s. In the space of this album’s release, Hootie and the Blowfish were catapulted from obscurity to virtual household names. It sold over 20 million copies and has turned into one of those albums that encapsulates a specific moment in time.
Don Gehman produced the album, chosen by Hootie and the Blowfish A&R man, Tim Sommer, due to the sound he captured in his previous work with R.E.M. The rich and vibrant guitar-driven anthems are something of a Gehman signature, and they shine through here.
In 2019, the album has been brought back to life as a special edition, remastered and sold with 3 CDs and a DVD featuring a 5.1 Dolby Digital AC3 48k surround mix of the album which has seen this piece of work tipped for a potential Best Immersive Audio Album Grammy award. The release also features a 96k 24-bit LPCM stereo mix, five bonus tracks and music videos.
If you remember the band from their glory years in the ‘90s, you might wonder what a surround sound mix can do for such a straightforward band. In truth, the songs, while well written and produced, are not overly ambitious in their structure or instrumentation. However, upon first listen it is pleasantly surprising just to hear what this immersive mix does for the rock songs. The clear vocals suddenly stand up front, while the band takes on new life and depth, being mixed into the room with you in a way that only surround sound can do.
The tracks have had new life breathed into them. It is fair to say that the original album had an ‘80s/’90s drum kit mix, which was less-than-prominent. In this new mix from Gehman, everything has its own space, and no track fades to the background. New instruments such as organs float in and bring a new soundstage with them, which honestly was hard to imagine before. The songs were always well-tailored, but with the remaster, they now have a new vibrancy and clarity.
Hits on this album will bring a lot of nostalgia flooding back to those who can remember the first release. “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be with You” have the same alt-rock punch, singalong vibe, and upbeat flow, with a new and enhanced soundstage. The same is true of “Let Her Cry,” which actually won a Grammy for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals” in the ‘90s.
The surround mix really comes into its own with some of the album tracks which were not singles. For instance, the mix on “Running From an Angel” impressively brings the more adventurous percussion and instrumentation to the forefront. The guitars, organs, and bass on “Not Even the Trees” fully engulf the listener, and it becomes perfectly clear why this album was revisited for the immersive format.
A trip down nostalgia lane, with plenty of driving singalongs, Cracked Rear View has stood the test of time in this 25th-anniversary celebration of a modern classic.
About the Author
Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his own site, subreel.com