The Sugar People are the latest group of Ann Arbor musicians determined to infuse styles, cross cultures and change directions on a whim. At their best they sound like Gnarls Barkley or, perhaps, Massive Attack. Trouble is, at their worst, they invoke the vile spirit of Justin Timberlake and best-forgotten memories of toilet-wallowing George Michael.
The opening "Roots" best exemplifies the latter; the pseudo-soul sounds like Listen Without Prejudice-era Michael, and does nothing to suggest the delights that come later on this record. Having said that, there are many Wham! and 'N Sync fans out there, and if you include yourself in that group there's plenty for you to love here. But there are far better songs, from the rock 'n' soul of "Hot Breath" to the guitar-driven dub of "Take a Break." Then there's the delicate, poignant beauty of "Scars Unseen," easily the highlight of the record and the song that truly shows what these guys can achieve.
In terms of major-league success, the Sugar People's potential is boundless. However, their self-titled debut finds them at a crossing. To the left is the last train to chartsville, one riddled with compromise. To the right is a long road, filled with heartbreak and potholes ... but much better music and ultimate satisfaction. Straight ahead is Flint. Pick carefully, kids.
The Sugar People play the Ann Arbor Street Fair in downtown Ann Arbor at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 17.
Brett Callwood writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.