It's the rare band that makes Smash Mouth seem edgy by comparison. It's the rare band that makes Sublime seem arty, that makes 311 seem novel, that makes Jack Johnson seem… tolerable. But here we are, and here we go: Magic. Oops, make that Magic!—the exclamation point being one of many red flags indicating that these guys are high-order douches.
Here's another, a quote from founding member Nasri (just the one name, thanks), taken from a quickie write-up in that reputable A&E organ USA Today: "Mark was playing guitar and started playing this kind of reggae groove. I said, 'Bro, I have this whole concept for a band, to do a like a modern-day Police. We should start a band.'"
Guess what? They started a band. The band sounds nominally like the Police. But what they really sound like is if Maroon 5 and UB40 had a baby, then raised that baby in a box with no light, then let it out during adolescence and fed it nothing but Adderal, then ran it over with a bus, then reanimated its corpse and made it dance around to Crazy Town's "Butterfly."
band's thing's album is out this week, and contains the single "Rude," which is currently filling the role of this year's sacrificial Summer Jam, the one you'll hear everywhere through July and August, and dream of vanquishing Viking-funeral-style come September, lying to your friends that you hated it all along. Lemme save you the trouble: Start hating it now.
Am I being harsh? Perhaps. I'll admit to having a personal grudge against Magic. (Nope, not gonna do it.) You see, last week I took a long-overdue vacation. Me and my BFF went surfing, in fact, in my homeland of Southern California, which is pretty much the exact activity and geographic location you're supposed to be doing/in when you encounter a band like this, and sure enough, we did: Seemingly every time we fired up the rental car to stock up on beer or get some bean-and-cheese-and-potato burritos from Pedro's (Christ, those rule), that impossibly cloying/annoying song was on. You've heard it, right? Sure you have. It's in heavy rotation on every radio format: pop, alt, rock, adult contemporary, and whatever plays Shwayze. Trust me, it's on, filling dentist's waiting rooms and shitty sports bars with sentimental faux reggae that's so insipid and phony it makes Slightly Stoopid look like Jimmy Cliff. So thank you, Magic, for I will forever associate your piece-of-shit song with my otherwise great vacation.
Am I picking on a new band with good intentions that's just trying to make its way in the world? Sorta, but not really. Magic is the concoction of Los Angeles-via-Toronto pop striver Nasri, a songwriter/hit-maker in the mold of One Republic's Ryan Tedder and Foster the People's Marc Foster. Nasri's written songs for the likes of Shakira and Chris Brown; he and his band are what are known as pro-giggers, trained and talented musicians plying their trade anytime and anywhere—which is fine! If you're good at something, never do it for free, amiright? Indeed. Stack that paper. But still: This is why Magic are a new band the same way Doritos' "Jacked" Spicy Chipotle BBQ Chips are a new food. Both are neither "new" nor nourishing in the slightest.
Here's the part where you lecture me about the Monkees and the Beatles and Colonel Tom Parker and all the bands stanchioned together over the years by this or that Svengali and the indelible impact they had on the pop-music cannon. But fuck that. I can get down with that. I'll listen to the totally fabricated One Direction's totally fabricated Mumford & Sons rip "Story of My Life" and hum that shit no problemo. Pop music is all about what you're selling and how you're selling it: Those things have to line up. When they don't—when, say, you're selling boho hippie island vibes with Don Draper's cynical acumen–well, then, you hear it like nails on a chalkboard, which btw is a generous characterization of Magic's debut album, even per the horrifically low bar of summer-jam albums.
We might as well talk about that album. Perhaps "Rude" is the bad trailer for the great movie, right? Nope. If there's one thing I know, it's half-assed surfer reggae/ska/punk, having grown up during the genre's heyday in its ancestral home. (Dig it: My college roommate was in that Crazy Town video.) But Magic's debut has self-serious arena rock aspirations that squash its chances of feeling truly breezy and carefree. Because these guys are pro-giggers, the record features solid musicianship: pyrotechnic guitar licks, canny arrangements, big choruses. And I'll give the band credit for channeling the Police's peripatetic grooves on songs like "Stupid Me" and "Little Girl Big World." These guys have chops, no doubt; there are some legitimate earworms on this thing. But songs like "One Woman One Man," a seeming Bob Marley/Coldplay mashup, betray Magic as a pop composite for the America's Got Talent age, selling sunny vibes that dimly reveal themselves to be the equivalent of inflatable palm trees marked down at Walmart.
Even the record's title, Don't Kill the Magic, seems like a preemptive taunt to would-be critics like me: We're all just chilling, having a good time, squeezing limes into our Corona Lites! Don't harsh our mellow, bro! Don't munge our vibe! Don't kill the magic! Nope, sorry, I'm killing it, exclamation point and all.