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SUGAR RAY PLAYS IT SAFER WITH '14:59'

Riding in on a tidal wave created by its hit single "Fly" (injected with reggae goodness) and lead singer Mark McGrath's appeal to the teenybopper crowd, Sugar Ray hit pay dirt in 1998.

Its second album, "Floored," managed to sell more than 2 million copies during the scorching summer of '97. It also solidified a position for the band in the "most likely to be a one-hit wonder" category, with such lovable, forgettable bands as Silverchair, Matchbox 20 and the Gin Blossoms. Guitarist cutup Rodney Sheppard, bassist Murphy Karges, beat provider Stan Frazier and turntablist Craig "DJ Homicide" Bullock would rather laugh in the face of adversity than fear the sophomore (I mean junior) slump that has plagued bands for decades.

The title of Sugar Ray's third album, "14:59," is a brilliant play of words on the Warholian phrase of "15 minutes of fame." This is the deciding moment of the band's career, one second before all 15 minutes are spent and they go back to janitorial jobs.

Compared to "Floored" and the band's 1995 debut, "Lemonade and Brownies," "14:59" is less risky and deliberately mainstream. As McGrath said in a recent Spin feature, "Why bite the hand that is feeding you?" But, thankfully, it is not an album of 13 "Fly" clones. Rather, it builds on the formula that worked there. The first single, "Every Morning," is already in heavy rotation on MTV and radio, and destined to be the hit the band needs to move in a crowded market. It is catchy and something you can sing along to, with Bullock cutting vinyl here and there, sandwiched between melodic guitar strumming and the vocal stylings of McGrath, who has definitely matured.

"Falls Apart" continues, with tear-jerking tendencies and a lighter tone. McGrath croons, "I would hold you tomorrow/but you are leaving today." Dancehall toaster Supercat added his voice to complete "Fly," so the MC of MC's, KRS-One, shows up on "Live and Direct." A sample of his old hip-hop collective Boogie Down Productions plays in the background, with a bop-your-head beat and enough funk to make anyone smile.

"Personal Space Invaders" coasts along on a trippy, video-game-type track. Then "Aim for Me" opens with a wolf howling and conjures up images of yesteryear (almost), when Sugar Ray made tracks like "10 Seconds Down," where the heavy guitars took center stage and McGrath screamed once in a while. "Someday" and "Ode to the Lonely Hearted" are more of the same softer, fluffier, almost ballad presence prominent on this album. Organs pipe and McGrath invites, "Just close your eyes and I will take you there/this place is warm, without a care."

Showing they still have a sense of humor, Sugar Ray takes us back to the '80s, with a cover of the horrible Steve Miller cut "Abracadabra." Except they are actually making a genuine attempt to replicate the track, making this version actually sound better than the original.

So has Sugar Ray sold out like many others? Yes and no. It has adopted a friendlier, "Fly"-escape sound, but the frat-boy and fun style is still here. Sheppard's guitar is still crunchy throughout the album, capturing the dumbed-down metal tone of the band's earlier work and keeping Sugar Ray from being compared to Third Eye Blind. The musicians still take some risks, and seem to not care what anyone thinks of them. Punk, hip-hop, rock and metal are all mixed into the fold. Sugar Ray definitely knows how to get a groove going, so "14:59" is not all that bad. Maybe, just maybe they can beat the 15-minute curse.

Andrew Parks is a senior at West Seneca East High School.

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