I’m constantly late to the party when it comes to musical fashion. There’s just such an astounding mass of good music – especially pop music – that its just very unlikely that the best stuff to listen to is what is being performed and promoted right now.
System of a Down is one of those bands. I got into them in 2008 when I was FAT. I haven’t heard their latest album – released in 2011 – but wouldn’t be surprised if it was great. They seem to have held interest from their early albums to their late ones. Their 2005 double-issue “Mesmerize” has some of my favorite songs on it.
Today I’m reviewing their song Sugar from their 1998 debut album:
There’s an official music video on youtube, with the guys bouncing around & acting fierce, but I chose this one so you can read along with the lyrics. They’re funny, absurd, violent, angry and self-mocking at the same time. That attitude – and the high-energy, insane-carnival-barker delivery style of singer Serj Tankian are hallmarks of SOAD.
Like every truly great song, this one begins with the chorus. As Dave Grohl noticed, every hit usually consists of: pre-chorus, chorus, interlude, verse (kinda), pre-chorus, chorus, code, chorus, fade-out…
What’s great about SOAD’s particular brand of metal is the thrashy punk approach, which is evident in the chorus. Its just a stupid simple – and ugly – riff consisting of only C-G-G flat-A in the lowest register possible (de-tuned guitar and bass, of course). And Serj ranting about “Kombucha Mushroom People”- huh? Its absurd.
This is the most absurd and horrible satire of jazz in rock ever. As my friend Matt says - Ta-ting? Really?
The harmony is barely there – still minor key, but just the skeleton of it. The drummer is absolutely horrible here – has no swing at all. And the “walking bass” is just as swing-less.
But the guys are quite aware of what they’re parodying. The whole fake-jazz bit is a setup to the song title line: “Sugar”, delivered in the slimiest lounge-singer way possible. Its like a TV game show is crashing the party/song, and the guy watching the show is slouched alone in his dark city apartment, guzzling beer, grinding his teeth, hating women and the world. That’s the character that Tankian brings out in his spoken-word/rap spiel.
After a repetition or two of the chorus/verse, we get to the most arresting element of the song – a metric modulation (and tempo down-shift), stop-time new psychotic rant from Tankian now fantasizing to himself of murder all those he hates (probably the vapid characters he’s watching on TV), and then an accelerando to chaos and the final note of the song.
Its just one of those songs that gets you in the mood to be really violent and have fun doing it. Love these guys.