Sound: Australia's Sick Puppies have been rapidly gaining buzz over the past decade, with their popularity getting bumped up a notch when they won the YouTube Video of the Year award back in 2006 (All The Same, otherwise known as the Free Hugs video). With their third studio album Tri-Polar, the band seems to be following in the footsteps of radio-friendly bands like Nickelback and that's not always such a good thing. Granted, frontman Shimon Moore has a grittier guitar tone than Chad Smith, but there are just too many times on Tri-Polar when the music sounds like a carbon copy of plenty of other radio-friendly bands out there.
The core songwriting is usually the source of frustration, particularly when it's obvious that the musicians within the Sick Puppies are a talented bunch. Between Moore's sonic guitar tones (often reminiscent of Billy Corgan's style), the driving bass lines of Emma Anzai, and the solid rhythmic backing of Mark Goodwin, there is plenty of ear candy on the CD. The problem is that the choruses and verses aren't always the most interesting. The power ballad Maybe has almost a Bon Jovi vibe at times, while I Hate You is simply a theme that has been done to death. The latter song isn't even that aggressive in its approach, and something gets lost in the translation.
Tri-Polar isn't completely void of creative moments, however. Many of Anzai's best grooves figure prominently in song intros (Should've Known Better, Riptide, Master of the Universe), often making those sections the highlight of the songs . You're Going Down (selected as WWE's official theme for the WWE Extreme Rules event) features Moore using a lower vocal range and has a likable melody similar to Blue Monday by New Order. Moore goes the other direction in Survive, during which his falsetto keeps popping up at unusual times. The Sick Puppies have always been pretty good at throwing some unexpected turns your way, and Tri-Polar still does have a few pleasant surprises. // 7
Lyrics: While the music always feels a bit cookie cutter on Tri-Polar, the lyrics tend to be even more so. Between the predictable themes of I Hate You and You're Going Down (which includes some lines about fists hitting faces and faces hitting the floor), it all seems a little tired. It's very possible that Shimon Moore was using the record as a venting session, but you can still express anger in a bit more original way than what we're hearing on the record. // 6
Overall Impression: It seems that White Balloons, the big closing number, does tend to lean towards being more of an epic song. And although it's totally different than anything else on the CD, it ends up being the most effective offering. Between the acoustic beginning, the alternating female vocals, and numerous transitions, it is hands-down the most engaging tune. While this style might not fit the radio-friendly format that the Sick Puppies seem to be fond of these days, hopefully a few more epic tunes will find their way back onto more of their records in the future.
It's hard to take for granted the amazing tones from Moore and Anzai, who have a knack at finding the sweet spot in their sound. There are even some interesting tempo changes in songs like In It For Life, but the choruses tend to revert to the same old formula we've heard before. Moore has such a gift at the guitar, and he would be doing the band a favor by taking on a few more solos along the way. He goes in that direction briefly on a few songs, but those moments end too quickly. // 7