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Album Review : Sugar Ray--Witless Juvenilia With a Beat

* 1/2, Sugar Ray, “Lemonade and Brownies” Atlantic The last O.C. local to borrow as brazenly and witlessly as Sugar Ray was former treasurer Robert L. Citron, and that left the whole county bankrupt.

These Huntington Beach-based exponents of boneheaded neo-frat rock may be bankrupt of ideas and good taste, but their ear for the ripped-off musical hook and their sharp way of pounding home variations on well-tested rap-metal formulas could earn them a bundle.

With the album’s cheesecake artwork and infantile, toilet-humor title, it’s clear Sugar Ray is factoring its appeal down to lowest denominators with this debut CD.

What’s most galling about “Lemonade and Brownies” is how cannily it is put together to seduce young headbangers and hip-hoppers. The album’s chugging metal riffs and shout-along refrains, its rapped sloganeering, its poppy hooks, and its ear-teasing production touches (deejay Lethal of House of Pain gets production credit, along with Sugar Ray’s O.C. homeboy, McG Nichol) give it the dumb-fun appeal that’s the essence of frat rock. And all those blatant thefts of other people’s catchy material ensures that most tracks will be instantly accessible and familiar.

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Most of the lyrics make no sense at all, as the four Sugar Ray members (who formerly called themselves the Shrinky Dinx) spout a jumble of catch-phrases designed to position themselves as naughty and nasty.

When thoughts do cohere into actual songs, it’s to fawn over a convicted rapist (“Iron Mic,” as in Tyson), or to pine, in “Streaker,” for good old 1974, when frat boys and frat girls made running around naked on college campuses a favorite extracurricular activity.

A lot of this stuff comes off as a Beastie Boys homage, with singer Mark McGrath adopting the New Yorkers’ familiar wheedling, whining, singsong on rap passages intercut by hard-rock riffing.

“Caboose” clones AC/DC, with some George Thorogood slide-guitar braying tossed in; the speeding thrash-metal number, “Big Black Woman” might as well be a Vandals song, except even the Vandals aren’t so obnoxious as to build a song around the indefensible refrain, “Back off, big black woman.”

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“The Greatest” owes a debt to old slog-rock pounders like Mountain and Led Zeppelin, and to the megaphone-distorted hard rock vocal style that figured prominently in Darren McNamee’s work with defunct local heroes Gherkin Raucous and Xtra Large.

With its canny commercial instincts, Sugar Ray knows enough to step off the rap-metal gas and take regular chill-out spells with cool funk. You can hear McGrath’s Sting imitation on the incessantly repeated chorus of “Hold Your Eyes,” while “Scuzzboots” swallows whole H-Town’s hit R & B croon, “Knockin’ Da Boots.”

There’s a lot of skillful, insinuating, and sometimes exciting record-making going on here, notably on the roaring metal number, “10 Seconds Down.” Too bad so much of the content belongs down the potty with the lemonade and brownies.

Albums are rated on a scale of * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.


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