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Rip-Off Artist Hopes to ‘Fly’ : SUGAR RAY “Floored” Lava/Atlantic (**)

Well, I used to be disgusted by Sugar Ray. Now, if I try, I can kinda be amused.

This metal-pop-hip-hop hybrid had nowhere to go but up after its imbecilic debut album, “Lemonade and Brownies.” In that excrescence from 1995, the ex-Newport Beach, now-L.A. band greeted the public with soft-porn cover art and enough puerile stupidity to fuel a junior high hell night. Among other unwittingly self-demeaning sins, Sugar Ray proclaimed that Mike Tyson deserved to get off scot-free and used “Back off, big black woman” as the chorus of a hard-rock song.

With “Floored,” the band graduates from idiocy to banality. Veteran producer David Kahne helps exploit the visceral appeal Sugar Ray had from the start. The band has a knack for catchy thefts and hard-rock crunch colored by pop hooks and a DJ’s deft scratch effects.

The first single from “Floored” is already a big hit in the making. “Fly” is a perfect summer confection that’s as irresistible as it is lightweight. The formula: Steal Sublime’s pop-reggae style, echo Steve Miller’s oft-copped “The Joker,” toss in a nifty little guitar hook that traces the downward spiral of a drunken bumblebee, and sing with ersatz soulfulness about wanting to get into some sweet young thing’s pants--without putting it so bluntly.

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Mainly, this is a derivative zoom-vroom band that veers from Korn’s growling to Rage Against the Machine’s yowling to AC/DC’s riffing and Vandals-style metalized punk jesting. “RPM” opens the album with a song-as-audio-car-chase that sounds like AC/DC and Jane’s Addiction flooring it around a curve at the Indy 500. A cover of the Adam Ant oldie “Stand and Deliver” is a campy but sizzling lark. Nothing else sounds remotely like “Fly.”

Lyrically, singer Mark McGrath typically strings together catch-phrases without much regard for meaning. He occasionally tosses out a thought about the shallowness of a life focused on boozing and wenching, but then hoists another cold one. It isn’t commendable, but, as Sugar Ray showed on its previous record, rock can get a lot more narrow and obnoxious.

* Sugar Ray plays tonight at Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 9 p.m. $10. (213) 466-6111. Also, Friday with P-Town Pubsters and Suction at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. 9 p.m. $6. (714) 572-1816.

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Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with three stars denoting a solid recommendation.


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