It’s an age-old tale.
Boys in heavy metal band on the verge of rocking the planet meet 13-year-old girl. Girl hates boys. Boys batter a smurf. The private yacht they are all on sinks. Boys are marooned on a desert island with only a pink Hello Kitty ghetto blaster, a case of batteries, the 13-year-old’s 1980s pop music CD collection and 158 cases of schnapps for company.
Ah… how often have we seen that sad story play out?
Such is the legend of Rock Sugar (full legend here). However, for the band, and fans of great music, there is a happy ending.
Twenty years later, the band were rescued by tuna fishermen and now they are back and ready to rock on from where they left off. With a twist.
Two decades of listening to 80s teenybopper music has left a mark – Popholm syndrome, as the band amusingly describe it – and now Rock Sugar is a musical nexus where the heaviest of metal collides with the lightest, catchiest and, um, cheesiest of bubblegum pop.
Okay, so, in other words, stripping away the wonderfully silly back story, we’re essentially in mash-up territory here. Or should that be mosh-up..?
I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the mash-up – they never improve on the original component parts and if they involves a song I like, it just annoys me to hear it ruined by some idiot playing about with mixing software on his computer.
But Rock Sugar bring something new to the mix. For a start, they are performing the songs, rather than just cutting and pasting other people’s recordings together.
But more importantly, they bring a sense of fun that transforms the mash-up from the dry, soulless technical exercise it essentially is into something… wonderful.
The 13 tracks on Rock Sugar‘s debut album, Reimaginator, are an astonishing fusion of no fewer than 34 songs by rock heavyweights such as Metallica, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue and Judas Priest with catchy pop-rock anthems from the likes of Journey, Eurythmics, Rick Springfield, Bon Jovi, Madonna and Queen.
The album opener, which is generating massive internet buzz at the moment, is Don’t Stop The Sandman, which blends Journey‘s Don’t Stop Believing and Metallica‘s Enter Sandman to simply stunning effect.
I know, I know… the Journey song has been hugely over-exposed in the last year or so, from its memorable use in the final scene of The Sopranos, through being massacred in last year’s The X Factor (in the UK) and, most recently, the surprisingly decent version performed by the cast of TV smash hit (and, the Choob must admit, one of my guilty TV pleasures) Glee.
But Rock Sugar’s version will make you look at the song in a whole new light. In a good way.
The official video has only been up on YouTube for about six weeks and already, through only word of mouth, has just smashed through the 200,000 views mark. Here it is, see what you think:
Great though it is, Don’t Stop The Sandman is really just the curtain-raiser to the album. You can stream all the tracks on the band’s official site, and most are also up on YouTube too, so I won’t go through them all.
However, here are a few that I think are particularly awesome (I’ll leave you to work out what’s been mashed together).
First up we have Prayin’ For A Sweet Weekend:
Next, Shook Me Like A Prayer:
And finally, Dreaming Of A Whole Lotta Breakfast:
There are countless ways this could have all gone horribly wrong and been an embarrassing mess – but it’s hard to imagine how it could possibly have turned out better.
And that is surely a testament to the fact that the band have genuine musical talent to back up their high-concept idea. Yes, there is a gimmick inherent in their music – but there’s nothing gimmicky about their inspired choices of songs to combine, the technical genius of their arrangements or the quality of their recorded performance.
If the live experience matches the studio effort – and early live reviews suggest that they are even better live than on disc, then this band may just be THE next big thing.
In the title of this post I jokingly compared Rock Sugar to the ever-entertaining Spinal Tap. But that’s perhaps unfair, because Tap are all about spoofing the self-important pomposity and excess of heavy metal. Rock Sugar is no spoof.
If Rock Sugar share any characteristics with Spinal Tap, it’s that their tongue is firmly in cheek and they are making rock music fun again.
The album is currently only available from the band’s website for $17. Adding international shipping of $8 makes it a slightly pricy proposition for those outwith the US – $25 or £16 – but well worth it, for my money, to get in at the ground floor because they deserve to be huge.
Rock Sugar might just be my new favourite band. Because pop rocks!
Incidentally, lead singer Jess Harnell has apparently had a colourful career. In addition to being in a few bands, including Loud & Clear, he’s a somewhat prolific voice-over artist. He has lent his voice to many animated TV shows and videogames.
Most notably, he starred as Wakko Warner in the fondly remembered 1990s Animaniacs cartoon series and also voiced two of the Transformers in the two recent live action movies. Oh, and he’s been the announcer for America’s Funniest Home Videos for over a decade.