Liverpool-based Sugarmen love their city so much they’ve dedicated their debut album Local Freaks to “the mad, interesting people we’ve met along the way” there. Inspired by Lou Reed and 1970s storytellers, their music is a concoction of guitar-led pop sounds from the 60s right through to the present day. Whether or not their band’s name is related in any way to Sixto Rodriguez’s ‘Sugarman’, no-one’s going to have to travel to darkest Africa to find them. Darkest Toxteth, perhaps.
There’s a school of thought that says that cherry picking the best chords, melodies and vocalisations that you’ve come across, and inserting them into your own product is a falsehood – and at times Sugarmen do appear to do that. Opener ‘Sold’, for example, has a strong 60s feels to it; think The Beatles meet Herman’s Hermits in the opening bars. But before long, a catchy, guitar-laden pop-rock section emerges out of the nostalgia – a feature not too indistinguishable from the Norway’s rising Norwegian punk sound that I seem to be reviewing a lot. They couldn’t have researched that.
And that sets the tone for the album’s remaining seven tracks. ‘Our Gallows’ isn’t half as gloomy as it sounds; a piercing bassline underpins a song packed with so many guitar hooks you’ll lose track of them. Somewhere between Orange Juice and Jethro Tull – and when the equally catchy ‘Thunder in the Foothills’ kicks in, it has a distinct flavour of The Clash about it.
‘Save the Feeling (Euphoria Tequila)’ starts off and finishes like a Spaghetti Western soundtrack while drifting firmly into Lou Reed territory in the middle. Both ‘Time’ and ‘Central Line’ are guitar-soaked melodic returns to 1980’s soft rock, featuring some pretty nifty precision percussion.
Penultimate track, ‘Rabbit Hole’, is an intriguing one. The voice of Lou returns on a song that’s enhanced by some distinctly shoegazey guitar; ‘This is My Life’ really rocks, a natural choice for a set-closer and in which Norman Tebbit is firmly put in his place: “No, I won’t get on my bike for a job… I’d rather stay in the city that I love”.
I read somewhere that Squeeze’s Chris Difford ran on to the stage to congratulate Sugarmen after a recent show – and if you listen to Local Freaks a couple of times, you’ll understand exactly why. They’ve learned how to incorporate the best of the best while developing a style of their own – not an easy trick. These lads can play.