There is nothing original about Rock Sugar. Mash-ups are nothing new (just ask Dread Zeppelin). Poking fun at the trappings of rock/metal is nothing new (hello Spinal Tap). Bands with detailed but fictitious backstories are nothing new (Alice Cooper). However, Rock Sugar has a way of combining all of those elements into an album that sounds fresh and unique, but most of all, fun.
Rock Sugar’s creative back story describes them as an almost breakout hair band when they were stranded on a desert island in 1989. Their only form of entertainment during their 20-year hiatus was the music collection of a 13-year old girl. Upon their return to civilization, their “comeback” album is filled with all new recordings of them singing (mostly) ’80s pop song lyrics over (mostly) ’80s hard rock/metal music. To say too much about the mash-up songs or their donor songs would be giving away a lot of the fun that comes from experiencing Rock Sugar the first time. Let me just say that the band crams over 30 classic songs from artists as diverse as Madonna, Paula Abdul, AC/DC, Eurythmics, Bon Jovi and Judas Priest into 13 unique tracks.
The liner notes state emphatically that “each and every note sung and played on this album was sung and played by Rock Sugar.” It seems an odd statement to include, until you listen to how flawlessly these songs have been meshed and merged together. It would be really easy to assume that sampling and mixing were going on behind the scenes here.
The vocals are essential when you are meshing two different genres into one song, and Rock Sugar has a secret weapon here, with lead vocalist Jess Harnell. Harnell is a world renowned voice actor (Animaniacs, Drawn Together, and both Transformers feature films). His talent for mimicry is well known, but I was not prepared for the level of skill he shows on this album. He seamlessly transitions from one flawless impression to the next, both between songs and within the same song — from Steve Perry to James Hetfield (“Don’t Stop the Sandman”), from Bryan Adams to Jani Lane (“Heaven and Heaven”) — leaving you stunned but smiling. However, as good as his impressions are, his natural singing voice, featured on key songs like “Here Comes the Fool You Wanted,” shines just as brightly here. The instrumental work by guitarist/bassist Chuck Duran and drummer/keyboardist Alex Track is just as impressive (new bassist Johnny Five will be joining them on tour). On most songs, I will dare you to tell the difference between this version and the original artist as the song starts. As the songs continue, and they transition through two, three, or even four donor songs as seamlessly and organically as if they were originally written that way, you cannot help but be impressed.
No album is perfect and Reimaginator has its flaws. On a couple of songs, Harnell’s mimicry overshadows the rest of the performance. I think “Voices in the Jungle” might have been my favorite song, if not for the Axl Rose impression. Also, a few of the mash-ups don’t mesh as well as hoped. A song with a name like “I Love Sugar on Me” should be a no-brainer, but something just feels a bit off in the execution. I have a feeling this one would work better live. Even with the few criticisms I’ve levied, there’s not a bad track on this CD. There are just a few that aren’t as awesome as the rest. After listening to this album I wanted two things:
1. To listen to it again (which I did).
2. To hear more, different mash-ups. I have a few ideas for their next album.
The performances are top notch. The production is high quality. And yes, the concept is very silly. But you know what the most important thing is? This music is FUN. When I play these tracks, I smile. When I play the video for my friends, they smile. When my wife is having a bad day and she plays the CD, her mood lifts. It’s silly, and infectious, and fun. It has been a long time since I have been able to unreservedly recommend a new album, but Reimaginator is it. Fans of ’80s metal will enjoy hearing pop songs from the same time frame kicked up a notch. Fans of ’80s pop music will enjoy hearing songs they love in a new way. And people who aren’t fans of either, well, they will enjoy seeing their friends’ brains explode when they play it for them. Do yourself a favor — head over to RockSugarBand.com , listen to the samples, watch the video, and then order the CD.
Rock Sugar: www.rocksugarband.com