Artist: Sick Puppies
Slightly conflicted, uneven at times, but appealing, Australian trio Sick Puppies’ fourth album Connect seems to find itself caught between two competing desires. It is for the most part chart-flavoured, with straightforward structuring, engaging choruses, and quick running times but there’s a distinctly darker undertone that struggles for recognition. Going off some of the band’s earlier work, it’s also decidedly more pop – toned down, almost, as if to aim for a wider market. Be that intentional or not it’s hard to argue with those elements of the fanbase expressing disappointment. Connect is an enjoyable listen but it could have been something much more remarkable had the band stuck to some of their more atmospheric tendencies. The songs on here that stand out the most benefit from some form of vision, with orchestration and grittier vocals bringing an edge and bite that’s missing from the more sanitised alternatives. The lyrics err toward vague and the music often sounds a bit stunted or directionless, but when the band bring an extra dimension to the songs they realise their real potential.
Perhaps the most memorable of these songs is “Under the Black Sky”, a dramatic and deliciously twisted number that’s unfortunately relegated to the closing number. It showcases a more filmic aspect to their writing, as gentle, ambling verses feed into a Gothic spectacular in the chorus. Lush, lurking movements collide in a moment of orchestral mayhem that wouldn’t be out of place in a Stolen Babies or Amanda Palmer track. It lends the song a more foreboding air and easily entices the listener, which makes it all the more disappointing that this extravagance goes mostly unused elsewhere. “Walking Away” is a song worthy of their back catalogue. A fiery departure from the album’s opening songs, it’s virulent, tough, and raucous. It too is bolstered by a powerful chorus, with vocalist Shim Moore delivering an antagonistic tirade set to lofty backing effects. “Gunfight” is a more polarising number. It’s anthemic and political in viewpoint, but not especially resonant in terms of its lyrics. That said, it’s very catchy and intense, with the rhythmic flair of the guitars making the verses hard to resist.
The other songs struggle to make as convincing an impact. They’re generally well executed, but somewhat plain and very banal in their chart rock offerings. “Poison” is pure formula, right down to its wearying lyrics and overlong running time. There is some sort of meaning straining to break through “Where Did the Time Go,” but it’s poorly served by the dullness of the music. Where the band give some thought to instrumentation, however, the songs fare slightly better. “Die to Save You” mixes harmonies with orchestral elements and piano, boosting what is otherwise a relatively by-the-numbers album opener. “Telling Lies” is thoughtful and airy. It creates an air of mystery in its lofty verses and long, indulgent notes, spreading them over a dreamy chorus and a gorgeous ethereal orchestral medley to close. The song doesn’t entirely gel at times, but it’s very alluring and more thought-provoking than most.
Connect has a solid across-the-board kind of impact – it’s not bad enough to be dismissed outright, but not quite brilliant enough to merit a rave review either. It falls somewhere in the middle, which may indeed have been the aim given the band’s obvious talent but seeming reluctance to embrace one specific sound.
Review written by Grace Duffy