First Hit #1: October 23, 1999
The ’90s end with Smooth, taking the slightly annoying frontman of Matchbox 20 and putting him in front of Carlos Santana’s typically pretty fantastic guitar work. It’s one of those songs that seems somewhat cynical on the surface. Latin pop was huge in ’99, and this is certainly putting Santana’s Latin side at the forefront. Matchbox 20 was popular too, though not at the same level – though it garnered a certain degree of critical backlash and Rob Thomas was probably best in small doses – I appreciate how much distortion he’s buried in during the verses, he can get really grating if left unchecked.
But, for something that could easily be cynical, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like Smooth. The lyrics are certainly goofy, but they’re also oddly quotable and kind of fun. The Latin influence is certainly a big movement at the time, but Santana knows what he’s doing and he’s pretty damn great on guitar – which really drives the song, whether or not we have Thomas there or not. It’s certainly watered down Santana, and even arguably watered down Thomas, and that’s part of the reason it could become such a massive hit. Smooth is, in a way, a testament to the power of great mediocrity. No one element is the best of its ilk, and it doesn’t really go too far outside of the norm, but it’s well done enough in its many disparate elements that it can appeal to lots of people.