Pure, gutsy, unrevolutionary rock
It’s kind of odd that an album can sound formulaic and refreshing simultaneously. Yet, Big Sugar accomplish that with Heated, a new album which, after several months of availability in Canada, has recently been released south of the border. On one level, the music doesn’t seem to have anything that sets it apart; it’s basically generic guitar rock, maybe with a bit of a bluesy feel. But on a deeper level, in a music industry currently dominated by boy bands, boy band graduates, dance artists, rappers, and rap-rockers, it’s a welcome development to see an old fashioned rock-group appear.
This particular old-fashioned rock group sounds like a cross between Soundgarden, Big Wreck, and well, Soundgarden. Certainly, having a voice like Chris Cornell is nothing to be ashamed of, but vocalist Gordie Johnson’s smooth yet strained vocals are so similar that he should be paying Cornell royalties. However, while Soundgarden backs up their high melodies with dark and grungy riffs, Big Sugar utilizes chunky hooks, retro effects, and long jamming solos to sway the focus from mood to music.
Heated yields some sporadic moments of particular creativity. The first track, “Where I Stand”, and a later cut, “Turn The Lights On”, both foreshadow a reggae atmosphere. The former immediately abandons it for a disjointed drum line combined with funky bass and vocal hooks, while the latter embraces it for a while but backs it up with powerful guitars. The album’s also got a wonderful summer song: the infinitely relaxing, infinitely groovy “100 Cigarettes” (half as many as the movie, and yet it’s still twice as entertaining).
By far, the albums highlight is its third track, “The Scene,” which opens with a violent hook that’s soon underscored by the thundering crunch of what sounds like at least six guitars (have I mentioned the band is a three-piece?). About halfway through the song, it stops completely, the lead singer cries, “I want to know, do you like to get high?” and the sound of cheering appears out of nowhere. Arena rock has returned, ladies and gentlemen.
Apart from the various highlights, however, almost every song on the album has the same routine: play a particular riff alone, establish a rhythmic groove, start singing over it. And then in nearly every song, eventually that riff appears alone again. After a while, you begin to figure out what’s coming.
However, that doesn’t come close to making this a bad album. Big Sugar’s music may be blatantly predictable, but for the rock connoisseur that has to wade through the Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray to hear Creed, it’s pleasant to see a guitar album that’s aggressive but not overblown enough to be metal. If Big Sugar is an example of the rock and roll frontier in Canada, then they apparently remember something we don’t.