A More Polished RessurectionBy Daniel J. Katz
For every Cinderella story of a band that toils on independent label after independent label, there’s the polar opposite: the band with a rapidly selling debut album but followups that just don’t catch on. Most of these artists are never heard from again, but there are a few exceptions.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you New Pop Sunday (Lookout), an indie album from none other than Sponge.
Sponge is a band whose hit singles are far more famous for their choruses than their real names. (I challenge you to find someone who can tell you what “Molly” or “Plowed” sound like, until you say “sixteen candles down the drain” or “a world of human wreckage,” at which point they will sing the entire song.) Their second album, Wax Ecstatic, revealed a much darker sound, more variety of genres, and one of the best slide guitar riffs of all time in the title track.
New Pop Sunday assembles the best elements of both previous albums, incorporating the bright guitar sound that defined Rotting Pinata with the more sophisticated and foreboding songwriting found on Wax Ecstatic. The result is a collection of songs that grab the listener like Sponge’s pop singles, but which actually have something to them.
There’s solid guitar work all over this album, ranging from the jangly arpeggios that echo over “My Lackluster Love” to the searing riff in “Pollyanna,” which brings back memories of “Plowed” with a reduced tempo. Sponge has always seemed most comfortable working in two realms: laid-back pop and driving cut-time rock. Both are present on the new album. The first is most clearly manifested in the first single, “Live Here Without You,” an innocent song which will grow on you incessantly. The latter rears its head in my favorite track by far, “1000 Times,” which combines a great melody with an ominous guitar line and an unrelenting beat.
I’m also quite partial to “When You’re On Fire, Baby, Roll,” the heaviest track on the album, which unconsciously captures the band’s desire to be the Reverend Horton Heat. “Radio Prayer Line” is a speedy number with a oddly discomforting riff that pops up every now and then to surprise you. The gradual layering of guitar parts in “All American World” showcases the band’s more extensive use of effects (which is evident throughout the album).
New Pop Sunday has the hooks and consistency that kept Wax Ecstatic from being a classic album, but it delves far deeper than Rotting Pinata. It’s sadly ironic that Sponge has finally found its stride at the depths of its popularity. Hopefully, Lookout can give them some good publicity, and they’ll be back on the radio where they now legitimately belong.