Welcome to a new Heavy Blog feature! It was spawned out of one of the greatest forces on the planet: fandom. Often used for evil, the basic excitement that draws us to love something is an inherently powerful force. Here at the blog we, and music journalists in general, often have to curb it for the sake of accuracy (we don’t believe in objectivity, in case you hadn’t noticed) and that can get hard. Love Letter is our way to vent! On this column you’ll find no nuanced analysis, no broader context or blind Lady Justice. You’ll only find someone gushing about a band, a track, an album, gear, a show, artwork or whatever else.
When Sugar Ray released their breakthrough reggae-infused pop hit “Fly’’ in 1997, they were still very much a punk metal band for the most part. If you listen to any other song on Floored, then you’ll hear nothing else that resembles “Fly’’ in the slightest. The success of that single inspired the band to adopt the more mainstream approach they became known for after that, and while you could place all of their subsequent releases in the pop rock category, the truth is that no Sugar Ray album sounds the same. The beauty of Sugar Ray is that they were a band who just liked to make music, and even though their records catered for the masses during the height of their popularity, they were never without moments of unpredictability. However, before their rise to fame, they released Lemonade and Brownies in 1995, and it was pretty wild. A party-centric blend of funk metal, punk rock, soul and even a touch of country and western, with a front cover displaying a naked Nicole Eggert, the album is the very definition of mindless; however, it boasts such a carefree attitude and knack for memorable tunes that it’s pretty gosh darn irresistible as well.
Sugar Ray was my favourite band during my formative years and I actually had my mother bake me brownies so I could eat them with a glass of lemonade because of this album. Little did I know back then that it was a puerile reference to poop and pee. However thanks to this record, I discovered the chocolatey goodness of a baked good that changed my life, and it also served as my gateway to Danzig (and I agree with the band’s sentiment that he could use a hug) and The Misfits. For these reasons – as well as my unabashed love of every song present – it will always hold a special place in my heart.
If the debut album title doesn’t give away the band’s mindset during circa-1995, then all it takes is one listen of opening track “Snug Harbor’’ to confirm that Sugar Ray didn’t take themselves seriously at all back then. A swingy number, Mark McGrath repeats the lyrics “Hey, get up! Have some fun tonight’’ repeatedly over a funky brass section, which is more or less the mentality that pervades the subsequent 14 tracks. “Rhyme Stealer’’ gets the album underway with infectious riffage and turntable scratching as McGrath raps about stealing rhymes and pulling up to parties, while “Iron Mic’’ continues the nu-metal stylings with a musical biography of the titular controversial boxer’s troubles with the law. See: who’s to say that an album named after pee and poop with a naked woman gracing the cover can’t contain relevant social commentary of the times?
In addition to nu-metal, the album also contains punk rock odes to cars (“Mean Machine’’), politically incorrect thrash (“Big Black Woman’’) and a streaking anthem, aptly titled “Streaker.’’ However, the best moments are the forays into funk-laden soul, like the wonderful “Danzig Needs a Hug’’, which is actually a song about strippers, and “Hold Your Eyes,’’ which sees McGrath squelching like Mr. Hanky having an orgasm. Some of the album’s naysayers criticise it for being “bro metal’’ or even “douche metal’’, but to me, it sounds more like a satire of that culture. It’s all one big joke, and no one is more in on it than the band themselves. That said, the tunes are genuinely quite superb; “10 Seconds Down’’ sees Rodney Shepherd deliver a riff that’s almighty, yet simplistic and catchy, while “Caboose’’ is rip-roaring rock n’ roll at its finest (and, interestingly, also became the theme music of ECW wrestler Chris Candido). One thing that the band demonstrated on this album was their ability to craft tunes that appeal to our easiest sensibilities; the lyrics are singalong, the choruses are memorable and the grooves and riffs are infectious. The pop sensibilities that would bring them stardom two years later are present here, albeit in a different way, and their tendency to explore a variety of genres is reflected here more than any other record they’ve released.
Lemonade and Brownies might not be the smartest record in the world, nor is it the most refined; but it’s pure fun from start to finish, showcasing a band who were enjoying the carefree nature of youth. That said, while the album is a time capsule of a bygone era, the strength of the songs has allowed the record to hold up pretty damn well, in my opinion. They might not be the classiest numbers, and they were never going to win any awards for being the best musicians on the planet, but Sugar Ray were good at what they did, and people gravitated towards them because they were good songwriters who knew their strengths. I suggest that you give Lemonade and Brownies another chance and allow yourself to be seduced by its charms. The rest of their output is pretty damn fun as well.