Oh boy. This was not a good idea.
Let me begin by stating clearly, for the record, that I am generally opposed to so-called “unplugged” albums, and “Polar Opposite,” the acoustic EP from Australian three-piece Sick Puppies fits that mold. In general, acoustic albums serve mainly to rip the spine from otherwise solid tracks, and display a sensitive side that never existed.
“Polar Opposite” represents eight softer sides of Sick Puppies songs, seven from their relative smash hit album “Tri-Polar,” and the single “All the Same” from their sophomore effort “Dressed Up as Life.” As opposed to the band’s previously released and off-the-cuff “Live and Unplugged” EP, “Polar Opposite” features full-on studio production and the occasional appearance of a string section.
To take the Sick Puppies single “You’re Going Down,” and turn it into an acoustic track is to completely disregard the hostile intent of the piece. The fact that the first verse of the song is played at half time is testament alone to the song’s evisceration. It’s remarkably difficult to take a lyric like “when my fist hits your face/And your face hits the floor,” seriously when adapted to a mellow timbre.
Following in that, it’s worth nothing that the great majority of profane content has been not-so-stealthily removed from the lyric sheets. The profanity contained in the originals isn’t necessary to the songs’ success, but its removal signifies a desire to appeal to either a different or wider market segment (teenage girls, most likely) and robs the songs in question (“You’re Going Down,” for one,) of their known emotional context. To know that the original screamed outro lyric of “So What I Lied” is “Life/Is too fucking short,” and to hear it turned into “Life/Is too [pregnant pause] short” feels remarkably disingenuous. If David Allan Coe has taught the world anything, it’s that it’s perfectly acceptable to curse while playing an acoustic guitar.
As the EP shambles on into a retread of “Riptide” the issue that arises is that this song was not written to be played acoustically. The Green Day-inspired musical phrasing is too abrupt to allow a smooth transition to unplugged playing. “So What I Lied” suffers the same setback, and it happens again during the suddenly weakened chorus of “White Balloons.” Shim Moore’s vocal effort almost carries the day, but the bridge section linking the dual chorus just sounds wrong.
There are two tracks here that come off much better than the other six. The first is “Don’t Walk Away,” which actually is more effective in this form than in the former electric. Emma Anzai’s breathy vocal performance and the disarming nature of unplugged guitar combine to the give a song an almost sweet folksy twang. The song is agitated but with a serene undercurrent, making it an enjoyable listen. “All the Same” also benefits from a more somber pacing, and sounds more natural in projection than the surrounding tracks. Being the only cut not off the current album cycle, it does make one wonder if this is the song that started the whole project rolling.
So long as they were in a studio with a string section, the trio could had taken the time to completely reinvent and remix these songs, like Fear Factory’s “Hatefiles” or Rob Zombie’s “American Made Music to Strip By” (those aren’t acoustic, but you get the idea.) “Polar Opposite,” in that familiar-but-different event, might have been more fulfilling. The “Live and Unplugged” EP feels much more genuine, more akin to other iconic unplugged live performances (Alice in Chains, Nirvana,) while “Polar Opposite” feels like a cash-in.
The future is still bright for the Sick Puppies, and this misstep does nothing to really subtract from the promise and triumph of "Tri-Polar." Another effort like that, combined with more famously energetic live shows, and this can be easily glossed over. In the meantime, “Polar Opposite” doesn’t seem like the road that’ll get the band to the Promised Land.