Puppy – Pure Evil


English trio, Puppy, are the type of heavy noise experiment NME and The Guardian cover as a sop to their small number of readers with a passing interest in metal. This means critics with no understanding of heavy music proclaim them as the rarest of creations – an interesting metal group. Of course, these same people declare Deaf Heaven as the saviours of metal, so their opinion carries no weight. The important thing to acknowledge here is that Puppy write pop music with the heaviest guitar tone possible, a bit like a sludge band covering the gorgeous noise rock of The Pixies through the prism of the debut Beck LP. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

You might believe you’re tuning into a My Dying Bride album when opener, ‘Shining Star’, drips through the speakers with a morbid distortion of grotty power chords. It lasts for no longer than one minute and thirty seconds, but it pulsates under Jock Norton’s esoteric vocal harmonies like an epitaph for a fallen era. How they switch from this to the alternative rock glory of the Smashing Pumpkins in ‘The Kiss’ is a question you’ll ask many times throughout this record. Has pop music ever sounded as violated as this?

‘My Offer’ is perhaps the closest the band come to realising their equilibrium between Teenage Fanclub and Black Sabbath. It offers a snapshot of what Pure Evil hopes to achieve, for this is an album of contrasts in mood, aesthetic, and colour. Make no mistake: Puppy know how to rock with a capital ‘R’. Norton’s nasal vocals on ‘Wasted Little Heart’ deliver a chorus that Weezer would applaud, yet the extravagant King’s X riffing and switch to a traditional metal posturing of bullet belts and arm spikes defies categorisation. One assumes they have a tongue-in-cheek humour buried in the music, but Puppy are anything but a cartoon band.

Thirteen songs spread across thirty-five minutes are easy to digest on repeat listens. Not one track goes beyond the four-minute mark, yet seldom do they pass over your head like the empty rhetoric of a free-market capitalist or the dogma of a socialist preacher. Puppy are too introverted to give a social commentary on the spirit of our times. Think again if you expected the ironic humour and ambiguous lyrics of the 1990s art-school scene to be the default setting here. ‘Shame’ leaves nothing to the imagination: “Blaming something else to disassociate/ So I don’t have to be somebody that I hate/ All I am is pain/ Every day’s the same.” You might dismiss this as slacker rock if not for the forlorn stanzas, but you’ll have no concerns about the foreboding filth pop of ‘Spellbound’. This is how you take Alice in Chains and insert them into a simple ditty. You can even tap your foot until they transition into a bizarre thrash metal modulation to close the song.

As an experimental piece of pop, Pure Evil continues Puppy’s trajectory towards creative destruction. The band enjoy sabotaging their catchy sound on ‘Holy Water’ and ‘Sacrifice’, although the lethargic vocals of the latter diminish its power. Likewise, ‘Angel’ achieves little more than reminding you that the Smashing Pumpkins b-sides album from 1994 is better than most of the iconic big sellers from Seattle at the time. Ending the proceedings with a dose of Blur Britpop doused in grunge mechanics will awaken the apathy of the Oasis fanbase, but it won’t win any new converts from the nostalgists that long for the days of The Pixies.

Puppy deserve more than a passing glance for attempting to coat indie pop in the harsh dynamics of metal. They don’t always succeed, but the standard of songwriting and the severity of the guitar tone are laudable achievements on Pure Evil.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 06/05/2022

Record Label: Rude Records

Standout tracks: Wasted Little Heart, Spellbound, Shame

Suggested Further Listening: Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot (1994), 3rd Secret – 3rd Secret (2022), Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (1971)