ALBUM REVIEW: Nic Cester – Sugar Rush

8/10

Melbourne singer/songwriter Nic Cester is probably best known in his role as frontman for the rock band Jet. He along with his brother Chris founded Jet in 1996. Jet would achieve commercial success in both the Antipodes and the US selling over 6.5 million records over the length of their career. Jet would take a hiatus in 2012, reuniting for select gigs once again in 2016 and currently play sporadic concert tour dates. Cester during Jet’s hiatus would elect to move from Australia and take his first steps towards a solo career. The time away from Jet would allow Cester to finally come to grips with the emotional turmoil of being in the band and the aftermath of his father’s death in 2004. The result of all these events culminates in the album “Sugar Rush”, an eclectic departure from Jet’s sonics and an introspective look at Cester’s journey through life thus far.

The origins of the album that would become Sugar Rush began with Cester leaving Australia first for Berlin and then to becoming an ex-pat in Italy. In Berlin, Cester would take a leap of faith booking three months in a recording studio with nary a band or a clue as to what he was looking to accomplish. He treated working in the studio like a day job, dedicating time to discovering what he wanted the project to become. The result of his singular focus was finding a foundation for his solo effort. Eventually, he would recruit producer Jim Abbiss, of Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age fame, to assist in making Cester’s vision a reality. With his move to Milan, Cester would realize he both needed a band and just how much he relied on his Jet colleagues as a sounding board, “I knew how to write a song, but (now) I had to play every instrument.” He would go on to select a backing band, The Milano Elettrica to sonically flesh out the release. The studio work in Milan would allow Cester to discover he could shake off the expectations of what a Jet song should be and do what he wanted. Sugar Rush, in the end, is a deeply personal release that displays Cester going through some significant life changing events; deaths, births, relocations and career changes.

The title track, Sugar Rush kicks things off with exactly that a song filled with energetic fuzzy guitars and smooth Jazz underpinnings. The combination is an intoxicatingly jitterfest that gets more seductive with Cester’s inspired Blues vocal. The track does exactly what an opening track needs to do to be successful, make you sit up and pay attention, in this case making the listener want to chase the sugar rush of the song. Eyes on the Horizon serves up an engaging mix of Coolwave and 70’s Rock classics vibes. Cester is channelling Joe Cocker’s insistent vocal audacity throughout the track making it delectable. Psichebello is another slice of engaging genre-hopping audio. The track blends Psychedelica with Alt. Pop and Sunlit Rock, producing a feeling that is pulled around yet not off-putting.

With Hard Times the album continues to go from strength to strength with this mid-tempo number. The song portrays the feelings and events surrounding the arrival of his first child. The lyrics examine the momentous decision he makes with his wife to have a child and addresses the accompanying worries and angst with complete honesty and earnestness. The feelings expressed about this one event in his life empathize not only with others in the same boat but with anyone who is on the edge of a life-changing decision; thus making the subject matter totally relatable. The excellent orchestration on the track uses an amalgam of soul, thumping bass lines and a smidgen of Reggae to make for another winning sonic combination. Hard Times is the emotional peak of the album.

My personal favourite follows. Strange Dreams has an excellent gospel influence and the backing choir is a perfect compliment to Cester’s vocal delivery. This earthy song gets under your skin and demands repeated listens. Who You Think You Are is utterly radio friendly and the most approachable selection on the release. The fantastic bass is the hook in a slick and catchy tune that shows off Cester’s Pop songwriting skills.

Throughout the brief 39 minutes of Sugar Rush, each song is a vignette of sorts. Each track displays how well Nic Cester can jump from genre to genre morphing his vocal delivery to suit the situation and how he effortlessly combines styles to make something unique. This happens on almost every track but even more so on the breathtaking, God Knows which is the “must listen” track of the album. It is a giant of a song with the nuanced blending of Blues with Soul and just that right amount of rock thump to make the song totally addictive. Not Fooling Anyone blends funk and pop making you swear that Prince, God rest his soul, was lurking somewhere in the studio when this was recorded. All the while Cester’s narrative takes himself and the listener to task for our rationalizations and lies we tell ourselves when we are really fooling no one. Cester continues on his journey towards the end of the album utilizing trip-hop beats on Little Things while ruminating on heartbreak and regret, selecting massive polyrhythms on the sinuous rocker Neon Light and finally arriving at the end of the journey with the atmospheric dreamy sonic on Walk On. Sugar Rush is a thrill ride through numerous genres highlighting Cester’s solid heartfelt lyrics and astonishing vocals while always emphasize you are in safe hands to try the experimental approaches presented.

Unlike a true sugar rush that leaves you flat and listless, Nic Cester’s Sugar Rush leaves you yearning for another listen. The release is a substantial and impressive Bijou gem. Time will tell if this solo outing was a one-off or if there is more musical goodness in store from Cester as a solo entity. Currently, it appears like Sugar Rush is a side project as Jet is currently on their “Get Reborn” tour in the UK this month. Regardless of what the future holds for Jet, this release is evidence that Cester could easily establish a lasting career as a solo performer. Well done!

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