Day 136: Summer’s for Music – On Radio Rock and the New Sick Puppies

by Tom Noonan

Connect, the fourth album from Aussie trio Sick Puppies, which was released stateside on July 16th, might as well be ten years old.  I’m not sure if it’s a cultural stop-gap or simply poor taste that transformed the early nu metal incarnation of this band into the lackluster rockers they are today, but even Three Days Grace had some wit to their product.  Connect has none.

This might have flown back in 2003, back when Three Days Grace and Smile Empty Soul made industry rock seem inspired, but everything on Connect sounds extremely dated in 2013.  Take the album-opening “Die to Save You”, a song that leads with a muted metal hook ripped right from the Billy Talent catalogue.  When the cribbed intro recedes and starts treading water on Shim Moore’s platitudes, there’s little structure left to sink your teeth into.  This isn’t even radio rock; it’s boardroom metal.

There’s nothing wrong with having stadium-sized ambitions.  It’s probably not even worth getting into music at all if you’re not interested in filling a stadium with people who want to hear your music.  But there’s a reason Lebron James listens to Imagine Dragons and not Nickelback.

If you want to go stadium big without becoming completely vanilla, there has to be a twist to the formula.  You have to find a new way to package massive hooks.  Night Visions, Imagine Dragons’ massive debut, did just that.  As a whole, Night Visions is more a great piece of market research than it is a good collection of songs.  2012’s biggest radio rock band won their title by mining EDM tropes (“Radioactive”) and running Mumford-y sing-alongs through a computer program (“Demons”).  They produced songs like Will Smith picks movies: by studying trends.  But what makes Night Visions successful is that it’s an album you can tell is wagering on stadium success but still manages to do a fairly good job of never revealing its hand.  You can sense the out-sized ambition, sure, but there are enough brains behind the machine to keep the curtain mostly closed.

Conversely, Connect is an album that leaves the curtain wide open, forcing the spectacle into a state of constant self-awareness.  This type of album needs to, at the very least, feign respect for its audience, but songs like Connect’s “Where Did the Time Go” aren’t just condescending in their banality; they’re downright cynical.  By the time Moore gets to the surprisingly nuanced late-90s nostalgia on the ballad “Healing Now”, you might start to wonder how much he’s been holding back.  Don’t worry, that question will pass.  You probably didn’t want to know the answer anyway.