Listen Up: Wednesday, October 19, 2005
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Sponge

The Man (Idol Records)

By Justin Press

High on local buzz, Idol Records took a big chance many moons ago when it brought in a marquee, former multi-platinum seller — even though all the famous Dallas-based label got in return was, well, sludge.

On The Man, one-time “edgy” mainstream radio darlings Sponge still write as if the year is 1994 — the quintet has yet to leave the flannel trappings of grunge behind. Just in case there’s a music fan out there who missed the ’90s completely, Sponge is here to set him straight.

The Detroit-based band came of age at a time when trends were being ridden hard, and the major labels signed just about every Pearl Jam/Alice in Chains/Soundgarden rip-off. But that was then, when bands went overboard to sound like one another. These days the only bands that sound alike are jazz trios.

Thick on slow-grinding, molasses-like, dropped-D riffage and pounded floor toms, the first half of The Man harks back to the days when all an “alt-rock” song needed to get on the radio was one good riff, a decent beat, lyrics full of self-loathing, and a yelled hook. Even The Man’s song titles capture the typical grunger’s certain, stare-at-the-floor-in-agony perspective; everything is laced with irony, most notably the track “For All The Drugs In the World.”

There are sparks of inspiration (or maybe the producer’s perspiration), especially when the aging dudes in Sponge bend their brittle bones to transcend the banal — the sweet Farfisa organ on “Feels Like Love,” the new wave bounce on “Shittier Day Than Me,” the gritty punk of “Back Against the Wall.” But these glimpses into more adventurous sounds are unfortunately bartered for tidal waves of macho bluster as the album lurches toward the final track. “Fame and Glory,” “Higher,” and the title track share the same ugly, greasy, slate-gray color as the blueprint for Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues” (circa the late 1960s). Wake me up when this re-run of That ‘90s Show is over.

Built more on brawn than brains, The Man is a knuckle-buster, not unlike recent full-lengths from Nickelback and Three Doors Down, except Sponge (unlike the aforementioned bands) is sort of melodically challenged, and — as we all know — even the heaviest, most dire tune needs some swing in its swat. Too bad for Sponge, they swung hard but struck out. —


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