When Athens, Georgia’s Dead Confederate began their debut album, Wrecking Ball, with a throat-shredding moan and an avalanche of guitars, they were instantly pegged as a Southern-fried Nirvana. While a little too cute, it did sum up their vibe fairly well and suggested some interesting directions they could go in the years to come. Unfortunately, their follow up, Sugar, doesn’t so much build on Wrecking Ball’s strengths as it goes in a new – and less successful – direction entirely.
What Dead Confederate has done is tighten up its songwriting – songs that might have hit six minutes in the past now are three or four – and add some hooks in what seems like an attempt to become more mainstream. The problem is that the band seems to want to go mainstream as it stood in 1995. As a result, they’ve lost a lot of what made them unique.
Any vestiges of their Southern roots are gone, as is their enveloping wall-of-guitars attack, which could be transporting when stretched out over time. Instead of mashing up Nirvana with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Sabbath, there’s “In the Dark” and “Quiet Kid,” which could be Smashing Pumpkins B-sides, and “By Design” and “Mob Scene,” which are heavier takes on Britpop. Throwing some roots music or Southern rock into the mix might have made for interesting takes on those ‘90s sounds, but that simply doesn’t happen.
That’s not to say there aren’t some high points on Sugar. The folky “Run From the Gun,” shows the band learned something from its tour with the Meat Puppets, and it’s always fun to hear J. Mascis wail away like he does in a guest spot on “Giving It All Away.” But overall, it’s hard to see Sugar as anything but a disappointment from a band struggling to find its identity.