In a way, the album titles of Suckers' two full-length albums sum up each respective collection pretty well. Wild Smile (complete with a close up of a mandrill on the cover) is exactly that: an eclectic trip through punchy hooks and wandering vocals that earned the band comparisons to Talking Heads and categorization under "art rock." The band took risks and it paid off well. With the sophomore Candy Salad, the poppier tracks are more straightforward yet the collection as a whole is more sprawling.
Although Candy Salad is more consistent (save for maybe a few outliers), most tracks rely more on catchy hooks and opening licks while the rest of the song is more repetitive.
This isn't to say that the album doesn't have its merits. It supports itself well on its own and, without much context, Candy Salad could be the dictionary example of a good album: there are sing-a-long worthy choruses and stadium anthem riffs. It's just that this second effort doesn't quite have the same inventive flair that I know Suckers are capable of. There are still eye-catching hooks and fun beats, but it sounds like Suckers have traded the tonal, tribal drums of Wild Smile for synths and wailing vocals for anthem-like choruses. It's a refreshing, new take for some tracks, but I miss the jangly beats and somewhat experimental composition of Suckers' earlier cuts.
Album opener "Nowhere" trumpets in this new anthem-like fanfare that the band embraces on Candy Salad. Harmonized vocals and driving beat characterize the new delivery, and the winding guitar solo break in the middle reminds you that Suckers still remember how to have fun. Same goes for "Leave The Light On," which starts off with a whimsical prelude on bells that ring back earlier charms. However, a synth-driven beat picks up halfway through and, along with the upbeat chorus, is reminiscent of feel-good sunshiny pop from another age.
Suckers briefly look back to their tribal influenced instrumentation on "George," without completely transporting us to their Wild Smile days. A synth-laden hook opens the track and slowly builds to a unison chorus; basic pop songwriting that, for better or worse, is omnipresent in much of Candy Salad. The spotlight, however, is saved for "Turn On The Sunshine," with a hook so catchy I wouldn't mind just putting it on a loop for the song's three-and-a-half minutes.
What ultimately makes Candy Salad fall a bit short behind Wild Smile is the fact that, while the latter sounds like successful experimentation, Candy Salad is undeniably toned-down and safe, while still allowing their amicable and occasionally infectious personality to shine through. In many places on the album, this can come off more as an inconsistency than a risk actually worth taking. Nevertheless, I commend Suckers for stepping out of the box, which, in their case, means wandering closer towards the box than ever before.
Stream 'Candy Salad' in its entirety here.
This album review is sponsored by Fox Searchlight's 'Sound of My Voice', in theaters April 27.