Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Album Review: Monster Truck - "Sittin' Heavy"

Almost as a conscious reaction to the digitization of music and the heavy influence of electronic production, rock is experiencing a revival like no one could have predicted, in nearly every genre permutation.  One of those, with roots deeply tied to the synthesis of rock and southern blues, is actually led by a Canadian band, Monster Truck, hailing from Ontario.  Don’t allow any location bias though – the band’s very logo conjures up echoes of the Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Two and a half years ago Monster Truck dropped their debut full-length “Furiosity,” a wonderful blend of rock stylings that made what was old new again, and the sky has looked fairly blue for the group ever since.  So what could we expect from their follow up, “Sittin’ Heavy?”

Remember those old commercials for Nutra-sweet or Folger’s coffee or Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel or whatever it was where the narrator would declare that four out of five people couldn’t taste the difference between an original product and a different or new one?  That’s sort of the feeling between the excellent “Furiosity” and the strikingly similar “Sittin’ Heavy.”  The album sings many of the same themes and platitudes, highlighting love lost and gained, weary souls and soft appeals to an overthrow of oppression in whatever form.  The new record invokes its most serious sense of déjà vu when listening to “For the People” which is an awful lot like “Power of the People” from a couple years back, down to the cadence and big chorus.

Now, in its defense, that does mean that “Sittin’ Heavy” hits many if not all of the same high watermarks that “Furiosity” did, displaying unusual versatility within a seemingly narrow band of rock and roll.  The fact that Monster Truck is capable of producing material that draws from classic and modern rock as well as metal and country and keeps each piece comfortably within their own idiom is a compliment to the writing ability of all involved.  You can chill to the easy twang of “Black Forest” or be whipped into a fervor by “Don’t Tell Me How to Live” or even crack at a smile at the upbeat piano of “Things Get Better” all in one sitting, which is admirable.

But there is a certain luster that is inevitably lost when it feels like you’ve done all those things before.  I’m as much a sucker for organ fills as the next guy, maybe more so, but it doesn’t feel as novel and innovative this time.  “Sittin’ Heavy” could have escaped with being a redux of “Furiosity” if the themes and ideas had changed, but even the messages of the songs and the very lyrics are functionally interchangeable with the previous record.  Not to belabor the point, but Monster Truck would have gained considerable traction (no pun intended) if the concept of “Sittin’ Heavy” had been different.

Many times when a band creates the same basic album again, the quality is subject to the law of diminishing returns.  As beloved as they are on this site, Texas Hippie Coalition are among the thousands of bands who are perpetrators of this, with their first two records remaining the gold standard and the subsequent albums falling in a lesser category.  Monster Truck, by contrast, avoids this trap, as “Sittin’ Heavy” is every bit the success that “Furiosity” was, the new record merely being a victim of not being released first.

If you did not hear “Furiosity,” feel free to start your Monster Truck collection with “Sittin’ Heavy” and know that you are listening to a high caliber product.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with this new effort in and of itself; it’s actually rather good.  If you are already a fan of Monster Truck’s debut though, rent this before you buy, as you may find yourself essentially paying for the same thing again.

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