Tri-polar is the first UK release from Sick Puppies, the grungy Australian trio who provided the music to THAT Free Hugs video. Having won plaudits Down Under since the turn of the Millennium, they’ve since relocated to Los Angeles and are definitely moving up in the world. Whether they can stay up is another question entirely. The main difficulty they’ll face is that, in a saturated market, there’s not much about their music which sticks out as theirs.
Some 67 million YouTube users have already heard opening track All The Same. But does it deserve such a status? At first listen, Shimon Moore’s dreary, affected drawl grates as being generically angsty, verging on irritatingly emo. “Go ahead, run again/ You’ll come back all the same” – lyrically, this reworked clich� is par for the course. Musically it’s not much better, a standard chorus-verse-draggingly-shuffling-guitar-verse-followed-by-wall-of-noise-chorus pattern that’s been done to death by better bands in a crowded genre. It’s perfectly listenable, but nothing special.
At times, the lack of imagination really hits home. Odd One starts with a reflective, alluring verse before crashing into a chorus that’s as samey as they come. And while it’s definitely got the energy that a few of the other tracks lack, the over-eager driving guitars on Should’ve Known Better makes the verse sound like it’s written as music to advertise Power Rangers figurines. Lyrically, GCSE-standard writing lets even the best musical intentions down. “I wish I’d never loved you/ Cos you were ‘sposed to be/ Coming back to me/ Where are you now?” – one of many forgettable lines of Tri-Polar.
It’s important to stress that the album isn’t a write-off. While calmer number White Balloons may be unbelievably cheesy (“The changes in me are likely to be like the weather”… “I know you’re connected to a part of me that I don’t even know myself”), it’s still quite sweet. Meanwhile, Riptide’s breaking into triplets adds some variety and momentum, the breakdown definitely has swagger, and Moore’s vocals get dirty and rasping just when they need to.
Indeed, Moore’s voice is one of the album’s saving graces. His Dave Grohl-esque growling adds gravitas to average-to-fair I Hate You, while on Survive his rapid-fire lyrics give real energy to the music, as does the decision to opt for tight rhythm over walls of sound.
You’re Going Down, meanwhile, is pretty decent stuff. The verse is a grungy version of Blue Monday – same notes, same brooding build-up – whereas the chorus is a boiling-over full of hubris and confrontation. The highlight of the whole album, though, has to be closing number, War. Driving bass and thunderstorm cymbals whip up a frenzy, over which Moore hovers menacingly. This is an aggressive, high-octane success.
The problem is, the band don’t seem to know when they’re onto a good thing. On My World, Emma Anzai delivers a nice bobbling bass line which sounds like it’s building up into something interesting, then… another identikit chorus that bears no musical relation to the verse whatsoever. Meanwhile, Don’t Walk Away and Maybe come too close to the boundary with bad boyband music, threatening their very credibility.
Tri-Polar isn’t the brightest diamond in the rough. It’s samey, lyrically questionable and generally lacking originality. While there are undoubtedly high points, Sick Puppies are trying to find a niche in an overcrowded genre, and until every track sticks out like the best of their material, they’re not going to get noticed.