Review Summary: Get ready to Feel! I mean Rock!
I'll be honest. I completely missed the ball on The Sick Puppies. From what I gather, they were an above average rock band from Australia known primarily for their introspective lyrics, nu-metal esque sound, smoking hot bassist, and more issues than your average magazine rack. Then along came the now legendary “Free Hugs" campaign.
Sick Puppies guitarist/vocalists Shimon Moore took video footage from the campaign dedicated to spreading cheer in the most personal way possible. The organizer's mother died from cancer. Shim synchs up the footage with a song the band was working on at the time "All The Same”, officially putting your lousy YouTube tributes with "You Raise Me Up" to shame. It gets posted on YouTube. Gets tens of millions of hits. The record labels and American money come calling, and the rest they say is history.
Okay, so it's about the least rock n' roll origin story ever. The fact remains that in a few short years, they became the darlings of mainstream rock fans and indie fans. But how exactly? What do the Sick Puppies do better than everyone else? Somehow they've earned this coveted position of being mainstream as hell, but managing to avoid the massive panning that comes with it. After listing to this album, I can walk away from it still saying it's a mystery. But it's not the worst one to get stuck in your head.
Musically, Dressed Up As Life is a tight release. And is as good a place as any to start unraveling the Sick Puppies as there sound hasn’t changed much since. Nixing the painfully dated nu-metal sound on their debut, Welcome To The Real World, but leaving in the angst, and somehow sounding better, is no small feat. Especially for a 3-peice band. But the album sounds as raw and as loud as anything else, and musically, above the average schlock you expect on rock radio. Shimon's guitar playing is probably the band's weakest element, (the failed guitar solo on "Issues" comes to mind) but for the most part it harmonizes and keeps things going. Mark Goodwin's drumming is especially tight, utilizing good rhythm, and fast-loud playing. You could be forgiven for thinking he played in a hardcore band. Woefully underrated. But it's Emma Anzai who steals the show. Far from just plodding along, her heavy, grooves lead to a dark, claustrophobic climate. She is a dominating presence on every song, and honestly you don't mind.
But where the album really shines, and I suspect where the band gets its critical acclaim, are the lyrics. Not content with merely wallowing in self-pity, the Sick Puppies drag you through it. Shim's lyrics are a tad bit anvilicious at times (“Cancer's dressed up as life"? But tell me how you really feel Shim) but it never gets too depressing to be considered just whinny. Shim sings with such convection and passion, he doesn't want you to just feel sad. He's on quest to get you to overcome those feelings. Pop in Dressed Up As Life excepting a rocking good time, and you'll be in for a surprise. You’re going to therapy, and Dr. Shim's here to make you feel. And this is where the Sick Puppies shine. Everything they do is just so damn earnest, you want to believe. There's a positive message in there, and once you brush away the tears after a few songs that hit a little too close to home (For reasons I'll never understand, my CD kept skipping to "Asshole Father" Damn you Sick Puppies!), you'll find yourself head banging along till the end.
Dressed Up As Life is an hard hitting album. Both musically and emotionally. Sure, the Sick Puppies may not be exactly screaming social taboos or raising hell like we except from our rock stars. But if this album taught me anything, it's that sometimes raising sprits works just as well. I may not ever get why the Sick Puppies are as popular as they are. But I wouldn't have it any other way.