SUNSPOT – Cynical
Sunspot’s new album Cynical contains a song called “Scott Bakula,” a bizarre love-hate homage to the star of Quantum Leap. The chorus is actually “He was honest and sharing and loving and caring / The kind of guy who’d always do the right thing / And clever and handsome and so friggin’ sensitive.” Elsewhere, the lyrics get dangerously close to Adam Sandler territory by rhyming “Bakula” with “quarterbackula,” “lackula,” “crackula,” “laid down the smackula,” and “punch him in the sackula.” It’s hard to say what’s more ridiculous; that the gentlemen and lady of Sunspot did in fact write and record this song, or that you’ll find yourself singing it under your breath hours later and wanting to listen to it again – multiple times. It’s packed to the brim with addictive hooks; over-saturated really, bursting at the seams. It’s the kind of song you don’t want to admit to yourself you like, but there’s just no denying it.
That’s the story for the better part of the album. The lyrical content isn’t generally what most people would consider deep (“dishes suck and laundry blows,” “I’m dying to party”), but they’re always backed up by huge-sounding instruments and fast, catchy riffs that move the songs along like the world will come to an end if they don’t rock hard enough. The same goes for vocalist/bassist Mike Huberty’s singing, which has an almost Andrew WK-like zest and glee that often makes him sound like the happiest guy in town, even when he’s singing “life sucks and then you die.” Ben Jaeger’s guitar playing is in the same vein, his eighties-recalling solos cheesy and over the top, but also melodic, memorable, and even rocking. And though they proclaim “Go ahead and turn this off / We’re taking back our music…we are not ubiquitous” on the fiery anti-wuss rock diatribe “Turn This Off,” you get the feeling they could be if they ever reached the mainstream.
Given how inspired the songs about TV stars, partying and rocking in general are, perhaps it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the fun and energy level decrease on the songs where Sunspot go for more substantial lyrical content. “Way I Fall,” which seems to be about searching for dreams in the Himalayas, brings memories of generic mid-nineties rock (think Better Than Ezra), and is unfortunately the longest song on the album. “The Breach” is a bit better, but would have worked better tucked away inside the disc as opposed to being the album opener. Luckily those songs give way to better times on “The Heidegger Paradox,” “Scott Bakula” (of course), and somewhat predictably, “The Happy Song.” Perhaps best of all is the unlisted ninth track, on which doo-wop harmonies repeat, “This is the sound check,” while “We’re testing the levels / How does it sound out there?” is sung like it’s the greatest line ever written. In its moment, maybe it is.
The only thing Sunspot might have going against them is the tendency of goofy songs to get old before long. But the album hasn’t become boring after a few weeks and “Scott Bakula” hasn’t after a few dozen listens. And my money says it’ll stay that way.