Local Wire

Sugar High

Power pop has always been about the comfort factor, the idea that no matter how dicey a boy-girl song situation is, the love emanating from a stack of carefully chosen records is somehow going to make everything all right. Tempe's Sugar High has not been immune to this sort of hero worship — "My Star," the most romantic song here, lauds a girl to immortal beloved status for deciphering Ramones lyrics. But that's also a song from the band's earliest days, and six years after their first full-length, Let the Sunshine Out raises the stakes and pushes Sugar High well beyond its comfort zone, to a place where bad things happen to good people who own Matthew Sweet records. The most audible change is vocalist Adrian Evans, whose pleasing tenor always nestled between Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms and Ron Dante of the Archies. This record finds Evans constantly pushing at the top of his range like a guy flooring his car to see how far right the needle can go and, amazingly, he never shows a hint of strain. The band also varies its sonic attack from its customary jangle, so rockers like "The King" and "Do Yourself That Favor" now seem more garage-y and nasty, while ballads like "My Star" are sweetened by strings. Even a cover of Cheap Trick's first single, "Oh Candy," sounds less reverent than it might've if they'd tackled it earlier on. Like Marshall Crenshaw in his Downtown period, there's a lot of instrumental coloring — like sitars, 12-strings, and mellotrons — that mirror a desire to be somewhere else emotionally. Nowhere does the band and producer Bob Hoag capture this restlessness better than "It's All Right the Way You Live," a song indirectly dismissive of a partner's M.O. while still hoping, "Can we work it out?" It's left to Jason Garcia's overdriven guitar to duke it out with a peal of bells that seems to have wandered off a Four Seasons record to answer, "No, we can't work it out. But we can make a beautiful noise trying."