After their first major label debut, Sugarcult quickly amassed a large following because of their edgy sound but ultimately lighthearted brand of power pop punk. Start Static and Palm Trees And Power Lines were both phenomenal albums that harnessed the fun of 90’s punk rock with blazing guitar riffs, scratchy but appealing vocals and catchy drum beats. Because of this, anticipation for the band’s third major record was pretty high. Unfortunately, Lights Out fails to capture the same spirit of the past. Not only does it take itself too seriously, but even when it attempts to return to fun, lighthearted pop punk form, it feels contrived and forced. The new, more serious style admittedly does provide some rock anthem gems, but a few duds bring the album down overall. As much as they try to be on Lights Out, Sugarcult isn’t a serious rock band, which is the whole reason Palm Trees And Power Lines and Start Static were such enjoyable experiences: the music had a certain energy and a power pop sound that could be taken seriously, but it never strayed too far from that format into anything too sobering. So although their last album isn’t terrible for what it is, it doesn’t quite measure up to what Sugarcult is fully capable of.
“Los Angeles” perfectly displays Lights Out‘s more serious tone and its emphasis on a heavier alternative rock sound. However, it also is one of the most impressive power chord-fueled rock anthems of the band’s career, from Airin Older’s groovy bass line to Tim Pagnotta’s raspy and lust-driven declarations of “This city’s killing me / I want, I want, I want everything.” These neat little tweaks to the verses give way to the dynamic current of Marko DeSantis’ electric guitar riffs and Kenny Livingston’s emphatic drumming during each turbulent chorus. The heavier composition and Pagnotta’s coarse vocals give it an edge not seen often from Sugarcult, making it one of the most authoritative tracks of the album.
“Do It Alone” represents a return to more jovial form, although it won’t stack up to some of the band’s most aesthetically pleasing work. Pagnotta once again focuses on sexual impulses on the lyrical front, while agreeably upbeat guitar riffs and consistent drumming set the charming tone to counterbalance the gruff vocals. The repetitive chorus can grow a bit stale, but the fun nature of this single ultimately prevails.
“Out Of Phase” attempts to pick up the pieces of the preceding dud “Explode” with a magnificently brooding bass line and Pagnotta’s harsh vocals and screams set to wicked guitar riffs and a fantastically rhythmic drum beat. The resonance of Pagnotta’s singing mixes well with his more throaty doses of urgency, but the heavy rocking chorus dominated by blazing guitars and pounding drums is what makes this wonderfully hard-hitting track the ultimate rocker of Lights Out.
Sugarcult’s fifth album isn’t terrible by any means, and certainly pumps out its fair share of enjoyable singles in the same vein of classic Los Angeles punk rock. But for every power pop-studded anthem like “Riot” and for every sentimental, sex-driven ballad like “Shaking,” there’s a less-than-stellar track to balance it out, such as the bland “Made A Mistake” or the annoyingly redundant “Explode.” Songs like these throw off the balance of the album, preventing Lights Out from ever realizing its full potential. The move toward more serious punk rock was a necessary one to prevent the lighthearted jingles of the past from growing too stale, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Fans of New Found Glory, The Starting Line, Yellowcard, Amber Pacific, Matchbook Romance, Something Corporate, Mest and Good Charlotte can still find something to enjoy here, but it won’t stack up to the pure and unfiltered Sugarcult sound of the past.
Final Score: 7/10
Rank: 3rd (five total albums)
- Lights Out
- Dead Living
- Los Angeles
- Do It Alone
- Out Of Phase
- Made A Mistake
- Majoring In Minors
- The Investigation