What do you get when you blend the harmonies and breezy rock grooves of the Beach Boys, the themes and stylings of David Bowie, and the whimsical lyrics of Paul Simon? You get a musical masterpiece that should go down as one of the best pop albums of the 1990’s. This 15 song compilation helped define the end of a decade we all love so much, while seamlessly transitioning us into the new millennium. Y2K may have been just around the corner, but this album takes us away on a 50-minute, chilled-out, space ship ride. This masterpiece is none other than 1999’s Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Does anyone actually enjoy the album that spawned “All Star”? Over the past several years this song has become the anthem of the meme-driven, r/funny side of the internet we never intend to visit, yet always find ourselves stumbling back into. Because of the song’s association with Shrek it has become solidified in meme-culture. It’s a catchy song that hasn’t stopped playing for 19 years and you can never seem to get it out of your head. But that old saying “don’t judge an album by it’s first single” definitely applies here. The beauty of Astro Lounge is that its singles don’t feel out-of-place whatsoever. “All Star” is in the perfect spot in the album to flow right along with the feeling of every other track.
Astro Lounge is a great example of an album that’s just there to have fun. While we all appreciate introspective music from the likes of Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Who, etc. there’s gotta be a place for this type of carefree album that doesn’t try to do too much. You can feel that these guys are having fun writing this stuff. Does this album go down in history as one of the most influential or proficient pieces of art? Of course not, but that’s not what we remember about the 90’s anyway. When you hear songs like “Who’s There,” “All Star,” “Satellite,” “Then The Morning Comes,” and “Can’t Get Enough Of You, Baby” you just can’t help but smile. There’s a great happy feeling that permeates the whole album.
Now obviously a happy sound alone doesn’t qualify Astro Lounge as one of the best albums of the 90’s. But musically this album is incredibly diverse, featuring Bossa Nova vibraphone melodies in “Then The Morning Comes,” surf rock guitar riffs and vocal harmonies in “Diggin’ Your Scene,” ska/punk rhythms and vocals in “Home,” New Wave synth featured in “Who’s There,“ and even a reggae song in “Road Man.” Smash Mouth really balances this diversity well. It would be easy to compile all of these genres into a single album and it feel like a jumbled mess, and yet the consistency of Greg Camp’s guitar tone, Paul De Lisle surf-inspired bass lines, and Steve Harwell’s unmistakable vocals maintain the flow and singularity of the album with perfect ease.
Astro Lounge is the quintessential album for the time. The 1990’s were really the last years of rock music being the driving force in pop music and since then rock has become more of a niche genre. With over four decades of rock music shaping the sound, 90’s rock had a lot of material to be inspired by. What I love about this album so much is that it does a great job of paying homage to the artists that came before it. The futuristic and outer space themes throughout the album bring undeniable connections to David Bowie. There’s a Bob Marley inspired Reggae track on the album complete with a horn section. There’s a Carlos Santana style flamenco guitar in “Satellite.“ There are a lot of meandering, nonsensical lyrics in the style of Paul Simon. Meanwhile the whole album retains the Rat Pack-inspired lounge style of the 1950’s. The inspiration for the album is seen across a myriad of musical style and genres — it’s a beautiful blend of old and new.
The album received a positive critical reception upon release: AllMusic gave it four out of five stars, Alternative Press awarded it 4/5, and Spin gave it 7/10. However, these numbers hold nothing to the commercial success Astro Lounge received as it would go on to receive certified triple platinum status. “Then The Morning Comes” topped out at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and “All Star” peaked at #4 on the chart. This ended up being the most successful album for the band and ultimately threw them into pop superstardom.
While Astro Lounge probably won’t be preserved by the National Archives, it deserves better than the butt-of-joke treatment it’s received in the last decade. It’s a fun album that’s genre-bending yet succinct and punchy. It perfectly meshes the vibes of the 1990’s while beautifully ushering in the 2000’s. Astro Lounge’s theme is futuristic, with an optimistic outer space perspective, while its overall sound pays homage to the music of the past while also feeling set in its time in an incredibly 90’s way. It reminds me of the Michael Keaton Batmobile or a Pierce Brosnan Bond movie that’s full of “futuristic” tech, yet feels so 1990’s. It deserves to be in the conversation of the best pop albums of the 90’s. Give it a listen and see if it doesn’t put a smile on your face — ironic or not.