Written by John Payne
Classic rock connoisseurs Sleeping Buddha is comprised of four members: three contribute guitar work and two play keyboards. Even more interestingly, virtually every song credits a different combination of members with the songwriting. These facts may help explain the remarkable diversity displayed throughout the twelve songs on their self-titled album, on which the band comes across as classic-rock historians trying to write a history of rock on record.
Though most of the songs appear to be inspired by a core of classic-rock groups, they draw upon a number of different genres. Album opener “High Horse” features big sludge-metal riffs drawn from Sabbath sitting alongside some hilariously condescending lyrics: “My place at the top is so strong / Your view from the bottom is simply wrong / You can’t talk any sense into me.” This particular song is straight metal, but it’s the only song like that on the album. Metal riffs make frequent appearances in songs that don’t necessarily qualify as metal, songs that are more focused on the keyboards and have a chilly, spacey vibe. At its best, such as on the epic “Roman Anthem” and the somber “Got More,” it sounds like Tony Iommi joined Pink Floyd without, judging by the expressive, melodic solos, displacing David Gilmour.
“Roman Anthem” also creates a stunning dichotomy between some very ethereal, beautiful passages and menacing riff-rock. “All We Are” is an unlikely marriage of art rock and arena rock that recalls mid-to-late 90’s Pearl Jam. The lush, haunting “Lift Me Up” sounds as if it could have been one of the acoustic songs on Led Zeppelin III, with its very cool, Eastern-sounding vibes. “Riff Raff” brings the funk, with wah-wah-powered guitar lines swirling around all over the place. At times, Sleeping Buddha is a rush, like listening to ten different good 70’s rock albums at the same time.
However, the album is not without its weaknesses. Though vocalist/guitarist Bob Cirilli sounds really good when singing in a subdued, restrained manner, as he does for most of the album, his hard-rock voice is by no means his strong suit. This is most evident on “Tainted” during the repeated shouts of “You have a voice now go and speak it,” which unfortunately sounds like Puddle of Mudd more than anything else. Some of the lyrical content is also questionable (“It’s my way or the highway, honey”…wasn’t there was a Limp Bizkit song that featured those words?).
Taken as a whole, though, Sleeping Buddha is an impressive work, one that inspires memories of specific bands without directly ripping any of them off, one that puts multiple rock genres to use without fully committing to any of them. And really, when music draws so heavily upon Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Floyd, how can it go wrong?