Sponge "New Pop Sunday" (1999) Album Review
Album: New Pop Sunday
Ever since I heard them on an alternative rock radio station in the mid-1990s, I've been a fan of the post-grunge band Sponge. Formed in Detroit, Michigan by singer Vinnie Dombroski, Joey Mazzola, and Mike and Tim Cross, Sponge found success in the wake of grunge bands such as Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. Songs from their first two albums included "Have You Seen Mary?," "Molly," and "Wax Ecstatic," were staples in my personal listening playlist. Because of this, I was excited to purchase their third CD titled New Pop Sunday when it dropped in 1999, even while my friends and peers moved on to the harder edged sounds of nu metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, a musical trend that thankfully (and mercifully) had a lifespan as short as the late-'90s big band revival craze.
When it comes to "broken skip button" albums—LPs where you can listen to every single track from beginning to end in one sitting—there's not a whole heck of a lot out there that can stand up to that description. New Pop Sunday, for my money, is certainly at the top of that extremely short list. From the opening track to the concluding song, I was completely absorbed by this offering from the Motor City band. Lead singer Vinnie's manic, garbled vocals work in surprising harmony with the superb musical arrangements. This entire album is definitely a deliberate departure from the band's previous efforts and a thumbing of the nose to what dominated the mainstream music scene at the time, becoming a true rock alternative that boasts an almost Cure-like aesthetic (minus the shadowy eyeliner, of course).
Check out any alternative rock compilation from the 90's and you're bound to hear the unmistakable voice of Vinnie Dombroski. His chaotic tones, strained notes and bold vocal choices have made him a refreshing figure in not just 90's rock and roll but alternative music in general. On New Pop Sunday, these attributes are really showcased in songs like "Live Here Without You" and "1,000 Times", where his melodic wailing over a faceless lover evokes a sense that he's truly emotionally broken, desperately reaching out one last time for a love that's doomed to fail.
Not to be outshone, the guitar combo of Joey Mazzola and Michael Cross as well as the sure-handed bass of Tim Cross, refuse to take a back seat by producing ripping chord progressions, thumping base lines and blazing riffs. The songs "When You're on Fire, Roll", "Planet Girls", and "Disconnected" are perfect examples of the under appreciated trio. The latter song especially, with added horns sprinkled in for a pleasing textured effect, is a masterful gem.
Also something that should be mentioned is the total running time of New Pop Sunday. At 47:33, the album isn't a ponderous mess and doesn't overstay its welcome. Tracks range between 4 - 5 minutes in length, providing a consistent experience from the first song to the last.
So what's bad about this album? Well, as much as I praised Mr. Dombroski above, his voice is admittedly an acquired taste. There are creative inflections and unorthodox tonal decisions used that may sound strange to a newcomer to the band. Those looking for a smooth pitch perfect sound may find his individualistic tones not to their liking.
Also, the lyrical content rarely rises above serviceable and even verges on being confusing at times. Half the tracks on the album deal with the turbulent storm of heartache and lovers lost -- which is when the band is at its best, in my opinion -- while the remaining songs vaguely touch on topics such as abortion ("New Pop Sunday"), teenage pregnancy ("Radio Prayer Line"), drug use ("Disconnected"), and pseudo-political commentary(?) ("All American World"). However, the band successfully overcomes this obstacle with expert craftsmanship and steamrolling conviction for each offering.
Sponge - "Live Here Without You"
"My Lackluster Love"
"Live Here Without You"
"All American World"
"Radio Prayer Line"
"New Pop Sunday"
"When You're on Fire Baby, Roll"
New Pop Sunday Really Pops!
Now, to be sure, I'm no highfalutin, haughty music critic by any means. I don't attend underground music festivals, wear chinos or sip frappaccinos with an espresso shot. As the saying goes "...I know what I like." And I truly enjoy this record. While the album was met with lukewarm reviews upon being released, I believe it to be a hidden gem in the musical catalog of Sponge, and an overshadowed treasure in alternative music in general. If you enjoy REM's late-80's output or The Cure, then I highly recommend you give this album a shot. Maybe you'll find out like I did that Sponge's is a tantalizing treat that satisfies with each listen. So buy it, download it, stream it -- do whatever you have do to soak up the cool songs found on this Sponge album! New Pop Sunday
Wax Ecstatic 1996
New Pop Sunday 1999
For All the Drugs in the World 2003
The Man 2005
Galore Galore 2007
Stop the Bleeding 2013