It often seemed that playing grunge music and being from Seattle basically combined up to create a golden ticket for qualifying bands in the early-to-mid-nineties, but the crossover success wasn’t uniformly distributed. Love Battery had the right sound and the correct zip code. What they didn’t have was a label that knew how to market them. Straight Freak Ticket was the band’s fourth album overall and their first full-length since jumping from Sub Pop Records to Atlas Records. It obviously did pretty well with at least one batch of college kids. As far as I can tell, it didn’t make much of a dent elsewhere. Shortly after this album was released, drummer Jason Finn left the band to join the Presidents of the United States of America, which seemed to work out all right for him. Love Battery petered out after the release of the 1999 album Confusion Au Go Go, though there have been the requisite reunion shows in recent years.
31. Sugar, Besides
Music from Sugar sure came at a steady clip during the band’s relatively brief tenure. Former Hüsker Dü powerhouse Bob Mould’s return to playing with a group (another trio, no less) after a couple of excellent solo albums, Sugar released their first album, Copper Blue, in 1992, a mere six months after debuting on the stage of the famed Athens, Georgia venue 40 Watt Club. The released the ferocious EP Beaster the following spring and the group’s sophomore album, File Under: Easy Listening, arrived in 1994. Less than a year after that came Besides, a collection of B-sides and other stray bits.
Besides is essential for the inclusion of lead-off track “Needle Hits E” alone. Tuneful, bruising, exuberant, and yearning, it is quintessential Mould and simply one of the best songs Sugar ever recorded. Starting with this and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind (Solo Mix)” (which probably is the best song Sugar ever recorded and arguably Mould’s finest three-and-a-half-minutes as a songwriter) is unfair to everything that follows. There’s certainly good stuff to be found across the record — I’m partial to the tight, focused instrumental “Clownmaster,” and it’s fun to hear Sugar pummel the psychedelia out of the Who’s “Armenia City in the Sky” in a live cover version — but the exhaustive nature of the release means that there’s plenty of material that was properly relegated to filler on a CD single. There’s also a heavy reliance on live material, much of which isn’t all the revelatory. While it’s interesting to hear a song like “Explode and Make Up” become more ruminative in the live version, even as the band is delivering a fairly faithful take on it, the bulk of the concert material can’t transcend the usual live album flaw of feeling like the audio equivalent of a cloudy mirror’s reflection.
What Besides demonstrates most forcefully is that Sugar was truly the Bob Mould show, no matter how much he’d argue that he wanted it to be a true band, with the normal creative give and take that implies. Bassist David Barbe wrote four of the tracks — and takes lead vocal duties on them — and they come across as sadly drab. “Frustration” is so lacking in energy that it seems to belong to an entirely different band, though I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible Barbe had no way of winning, since his “In the Eyes of My Friends” is spot-on and winds up sounding like a weak imitation of Sugar. Mould was at a creative peak at this time. Anyone was going to have a tough time putting their songs up against his.
As it turned out, this was the last album to bear the Sugar name. By most accounts, the breakup was precipitated by Barbe’s desire to spend more time with his growing family. Mould has maintained that the dissolution of the band was fairly painless, at least compared to the napalm strafing that accompanied the end of Hüsker Dü, and that’s backed up by the continued connection between the band members, as when Mould worked in Barbe’s Athens studio and enlisted his former bandmate engineer the recordings. In general, Mould has affectionately embraced his Sugar material, especially in recent years. Even so, Besides is ultimately a tangential release, hardly the kind of album that demands attention. Then again, a person could do worse in demonstrating the appeal of Mould and Sugar than playing those first two tracks.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream