Review Summary: “Connect” is a flawed album kept afloat by Emma Anzai’s sporadic appearances and a few other gems sprinkled in here and there.
Sick Puppies thrives on tight-roping between two genres. The band’s first major-label record, “Dressed Up As Life,” (2007) played like a hard-rock album but contained enough angst under the surface to make pop-punk and emo music fans take notice. The group’s second album, “Tri-Polar,” (2009) mismanaged their two-part act, as the band drifted toward radio-friendly rock n’ roll and away from the raw emotion that made them so desirable in the first place.
The first single from their third album “Connect,” seemed to imply that Sick Puppies were continuing along the same unfortunate path they began on “Tri-Polar.” The song “There’s No Going Back” is a tepid affair that screams “please play me on the radio,” complete with an inoffensive and boring lead guitar riff and the same “whoa oh oh” backing vocals that plague every other mainstream rock release.
The entirety of “Connect” is a tad more convoluted. From the get-go, Sick Puppies comes out swinging with the grungy “Die to Save You,” which shines because male vocalist Shimon Moore shares the mic with female vocalist Emma Anzai. Anzai pops up throughout the album. In fact, the best track, the foreboding “Under a Very Black Sky,” wouldn’t sound nearly as ominous or interesting without Anzai’s innocent sounding vocals undercutting the dark tone of the song. The problem is, Anzai’s delicate vocals are absent for eight of the 12 tracks, and Sick Puppies’ sound really suffers when they rely solely on Moore. That’s not to say certain Moore tracks like the explosive “Walking Away” and the catchy “The Trick The Devil Did,” aren’t great in their own right -- they are -- but the rest of the album could really have used a pick-me-up from Anzai’s angelic voice. Instead, the music sounds stale and tired, not good for a band that made its name on emotion. Lackluster songs like “Where Did the Time Go” and “Poison” sound more like B-Sides off “Tri-Polar” than new material, and they take away from the appeal of “Connect.”
In spite of this, the worst song on the album does not earn that title because it’s too lethargic, but because of its subject matter. Opening with a bastardized electronic guitar version of a Native American war chant, “Gunfight” is 2:54 of cringes. Moore tactlessly rifles through topics like the genocide of the Native Americans, Kevin Bacon suing Bernie Madoff, the 2007-08 bank bailout, and Tiananmen Square. Without even going into the insensitivity, the song is repetitive and grating, and will have listeners reaching for the skip button before it’s half over.
Some previous fans of Sick Puppies are likely to be very happy with the band’s latest endeavor, but everyone else might be better served cherry picking a few favorite tracks and leaving the rest alone.