Before mindless and poppy dance songs flooded the radio and drowned listeners in annoyingly catchy hit singles, “catchy” and “popular” had different meanings in the world of music. This was a time when punk rock bands were at their peak, when groups like Blink-182, Green Day, Yellowcard, New Found Glory, Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, Matchbook Romance and Sum 41 were dominant forces on the radio with infectious and upbeat rock anthems that now remind listeners of their younger years and the good times associated with them. Unfortunately for one such band, those glory years would not last long after their sophomore album, once teenagers grew out of their rebel phase and “matured” into the brainless music that now litters radio stations across the country. Nobody has heard from Sugarcult for almost six years now, but that doesn’t stop their 2004 punk rock gem Palm Trees And Power Lines from living on in the hearts and headphones of fans who still yearn for the day when this talented band announces they’re getting back together to write new music. Sugarcult is a band that certainly peaked long ago. Their early years practically provided the soundtrack to the hit comedy Van Wilder, their debut album Start Static was a staple in punk rock at the time and they only increased their status with a phenomenal sophomore album that perfectly captures the spirit of punk rock at the time: no synthesizers, no studio gimmicks, no dance beats. Just pure guitar rhythms, animated drum beats, inventive lyrics and slightly edgy vocals to give the music that rebellious and addictive feel. To be clear, Palm Trees And Power Lines is not without its flaws; Tim Pagnotta’s coarse vocals can be off-putting at times and the album definitely lags near its closing. But when all is said and done, Sugarcult’s sophomore album is a punk rock masterpiece with high replay value, not only providing a triumphant example of what the genre was, but also displaying the heart and fun it lacks today.
“She’s The Blade” starts the album off with a spunky and fun song about the powers of a vindictive woman over man. The lively guitar riffs from Marko DeSantis, the nimble bass of Airin Older and the energetic drums of Kenny Livingston would already have been enough to make this song memorably catchy, but Pagnotta’s clever and vivid words about the classic tale of a stereotypical succubus (“She’s the blade and you’re just paper / You’re afraid cuz she’s got you closer”) help the album’s opener stand out as one of its most enjoyable.
Unless you lived under a rock during the early 2000’s, you remember Sugarcult’s biggest single in “Memory,” the incredibly catchy and pleasant single that helped put this band on the map and stand the test of time. This is the caliber of song that anyone who grew up with it knows it by heart and will happily belt it out as if no time had passed since punk rock ruled the airwaves. “Memory” isn’t overly complex; a simple and peppy drum beat accompanies a few sections of riffs and chugging on the guitar before building up into the sing-along chorus dominated by Pagnotta’s vocals, a perfect balance of punk edge and composure to make the song universally accessible. Simply put, this is Sugarcult (and Palm Trees And Power Lines) at its best.
“Champagne” is another prime example of how fun and appealing Sugarcult songs can be, starting off with light strumming, a clap beat in the background and Pagnotta’s amusing declaration of “All I can taste is champagne.” On the surface, it’s just an adolescent song about getting drunk; but such entertaining lyrics and engaging performances on each and every instrument quickly turn it into something more. “Champagne” won’t win any award for its emotional complexity, but it certainly does its job of making Palm Trees And Power Lines more fun for a wider audience.
Palm Trees And Power Lines actually takes a short turn for the dramatic with the aggressive ballad “Over,” which makes for one of the finer moments on the album. Reserved verses with the quiet strum of a guitar, steady beat on the drums and Pagnotta’s strangely calm vocals give way to dynamic choruses filled with blazing guitar and appropriately rough vocals from Pagnotta as he screams out in affliction: “It’s over/ You say we’re just friends / We’re playing pretend to keep me here / It’s over / There’s nothing you can do / There’s nothing you can say to keep me here.” This song separates itself from the rest of the pack as a fresh change of page and yet another weapon in this band’s impressive arsenal of song styles. Although the majority of Palm Trees And Power Lines is about fun, “Over” shows that Sugarcult can also write dramatic, heavy and emotional songs as well.
The album’s slightly weak backend prevents Palm Trees And Power Lines from being a truly transcendent punk album, but there’s a reason so many rock fans miss Sugarcult and this stellar sophomore record is a big part of it. Whether or not this seemingly dated style of music could translate well into the present day and age is a hard question to answer, especially considering how poorly Lights Out was received in 2006. Sugarcult’s last album was misunderstood and underrated, but it certainly was sub-par compared to the band’s older work. It seemed like this former punk titan was struggling with its identity and sound just like many of its fellow rock acts did during that time. They haven’t been heard from since, but there’s no denying that listening to Palm Trees And Power Lines every once in a while is a pleasant trip down memory lane, just as Pagnotta sings about in the band’s most popular and now almost prophetic hit single. From the heavier and enjoyable “Crying,” to the hit singles that put Sugarcult on the map; from the uptempo “What You Say” to the depressingly introspective “Counting Stars,” the replay value of this album is impeccable, not only because of the quality of music, but because of the reminder of the “good ol’ days” of punk that seems to be embodied in the music itself. Music is in a constant state of change and will continue to expand as each genre differentiates itself from the trends of the past; there’s no question a return for this band would only be appreciated by long-time fans unless they found a way to translate the spirit of the old music into modern punk. But some albums, like Palm Trees And Power Lines, will stand the test of time and serve as pristine examples to show not only what punk rock was, but who Sugarcult was as well.
Final Score: 9.4/10
Rank: 1st (five total albums)
- She’s The Blade
- Worst December
- Back To California
- Destination Anywhere
- What You Say
- Head Up
- Counting Stars
- Sign Off