Review Summary: Tri-Polar is among the best albums of 2009. Despite the preplexingly uninteresting lead single "You're Going Down," Tri-Polar packs a hearty punch while striking the same intimate chords found in "Dressed Up As Life."
I think there was a collective groan from rock fans when the demo for the new Sick Puppies' song "War" arrived on the internet. Coupling that with the out-of-character lead single "You're Going Down," a crowd of elitist buzzards flocked around the body of the Sick Puppies, just waiting until the album released so they could write their clever copy. Even on this site, the expected critiques flowed as reviewers said Tri-Polar was "What will be regarded as the most frustrating album of 2009," and, in typical vulturespeak, "The Sick Puppies prove that they are suffering for mainstream sophomore sickness." Is that it, have the Sick Puppies succumbed to the disease of selling out, losing their punch or the sophomore slump or what not?
I have to admit that I wanted to hate this album and be a good respectable musical snob. It's easy to just join if once a good ol'-fashioned dogpile gets going. "War" was a surprising jolt to the ears (not in a good way) and "You're Going Down" wasn't a single on par with titans "All The Same" and "My World" off the Puppies' legendary "Dressed Up As Life" of 2006. I didn't even bother to check out the album until August figuring "why be disappointed? I'll just have my memories of their former glory and not tarnish it with this new crap."
Then I actually listened to the album past the two critically-panned songs and voila, my antipathy faded. What I found in Tri-Polar was a dynamic concoction of songs that rode both dynamic and emotional crescendos to make an aggressive but balanced album that easily escaped the sophomore slump. Songs like "Master Of The Universe" show off both the chops of leading female bassist Emma Anzai and talented drummer Mark Goodwin.
As was true in Dressed Up In Life, vocalist Shimon Moore remains the weak point of the band. His attempts to add aggression to the band through forced screaming really detract from songs like "War". The vocals on "Odd One" are also a little funny -- overall, Shimon really is the only letdown on this album, if he left the aggression to Emma, who plays a perfectly menacing bass just fine, the album would really be legendary. All that said, Shimon still does provide generally good vocals, songs like "In It For Life," "Survive" and "Don't Walk Away" showcase his considerable talent.
Where the album excels is in the music. The vocals and lyrics are good enough for this genre, easily topping those of their competitors at other hard rock bands, however the other two members of the band set the Puppies apart. Almost every breakdown is something to behold, the final thirty seconds of "So What I Lied" are jaw-dropping, and the bridge of the album's best song, "In It For Life" sends chills down my spine every time.
Despite a few poor decisions, the move toward aggression and the choice to release "You're Going Down" as the lead single in particular, the Sick Puppies still bring their A-game. Contrary to the phoned-in criticism this album received, their is a lot of depth here. While Tri-Polar, with the exceptions of "In It For Life" and "White Balloons" can't match the grippingly frightening emotional intimacy of Dressed Up As Life, this album is still both heartfelt and passionate.
While Tri-Polar wasn't what we expected, the Sick Puppies have successfully managed to change direction without losing their signature sound. If you assume "War" and "You're Going Down" were put on the album to draw attention and garner sales from generally pathetically-shallow mainstream rock listeners and discount them, the rest of the album is easily a 4.5/5. I will disregard those two singles -- "You're Going Down" in particular seems to exist solely to saw to the Nicklebacks and Hinders of the world that we can get a #1 single at Active Rock and beat you at your own game without even trying -- and by doing so, I cannot but help shower praise on the rest of Tri-Polar.
4.7/5 if you exclude my skip tracks, 4.3/5 if you grade the whole album.
Must Have tracks:
In It For Life
So What I Lied
Master Of the Universe
You're Going Down
I Hate You