The first time I heard this album I loved it. The second time I hated it. Subsequent listens have moved me back towards my original position but with reservations (party of one?). A relatively young band, Sugerbomb is a very effective blend of traditional pop (XTC, Todd Rundgren), classic rock (well, Queen and The Beatles) and power pop (Jellyfish and early Self).
Not only can they rock hard but their songs are catchy to the point of being annoying (the title track resounds endlessly through my cranium, much to the chagrin of the normal residents, chiefly the haiku about Wink Martindale). "Mail Order Girlfriend" is an early favorite with a wall of E.L.O. vocals, a sinister minor-key feel (helped along by heavy organs), staccato piano, and a crushing, ambling "I Am The Walrus" rhythm. The hip-hop influence of Self surfaces in the verses of "Motor Mouth" while Queen rules in the chorus, Jellyfish peeps out of the bridge, and a Limp Bizkit-ish rap part somehow manages to fit seamlessly in the jumble. The first single, "Hello" is a Sugar Ray made-to-order radio single that didn't do much to wind my gears. Weezer-synthesizers adorn the carnival pop-punk of "Clover" while the unorthodox, disturbing vocal harmonies of "Over" offset the spun sugar cushion of chorus vocals that melt into a gothesque break of harder guitars, all designed to align your biorhythm. Squishy synths, wicked distorto-flanged guitars, and a tempo suited for sufferers of ADD drive "Gone" through the roof, followed immediately by "Posterchild for Tragedy", the first break from the manic wall of sweet sound, a warm piano driven ballad of strings and bittersweet harmonies in the tradition of McCartney and Queen. The final track, "After All", is a blatant Queen homage with glorious, operatic themes and overlapping vocals straight out of A Night At The Opera. Hit the Repeat button and you'll be treated again to "What A Drag", a tasty mix of E.L.O., Jellyfish, aggressive guitars, a bit of light rap, excellent songwriting and layer upon layer of production. The album lyrics are almost tertiary (TRIPLE WORD SCORE!) to the music and production but you can be assured that they are sufficiently contemptuous for their intended audience.
With an uncanny ability to incorporate an eclectic array of influences with a handful of modern rock clichés, Sugarbomb is a heavy explosion that overtakes your aural senses with astounding production and gumdrop sticky songwriting. While I'm a bit wary that this might be a pre-packaged band (they're on a major label), there's enough musical meat beneath the crunchy candy shell that my taste buds detect real musicians. Fans of Jellyfish, Queen, E.L.O. and ultra-polished power-pop production should check out this day-glo marriage of sucrose-laden harmonic guitar pop and cynical lyrics.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, July 2002.