Tony Sly - Sad Bear (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Tony Sly

Sad Bear (2011)

Fat Wreck Chords

Don't people form new bands anymore? Your beloved '90s punk band breaks up and suddenly you become that girl who stops dating anyone once her "one and only" doesn't work out but on a few drunken occasions finds her way back into the bed of the one who scorned her. Well maybe that person doesn't exist but I find myself sitting here questioning whether Tony Sly's latest album Sad Bear really exists either. It seems like it was specifically designed for that scene in High Fidelity where Jack Black's character complains about listening to sad bastard music. Maybe that would have been a better title.

"Dark Corner" serves it's function I suppose, setting the mood with an organ playing something akin to a theme from a '90s Wes Craven film; it is actually a clever little piece of music. Hell of spooky, n'am sayin'. It gives way into the kind of acoustic-driven ballad that Kelly Clarkson might do on an off day if she was a man having a mid-life crisis. Or maybe Evanescence is what it reminds me of with the crunchy electric guitar that comes in. Whatever the case may be it is sort of overwrought and I feel bad saying so as it is obviously coming from the heart. I think that is the problem with a lot of the album. It comes off as kind of anonymous pop music despite it being well-crafted. These songs could be inserted into any made-for-TV movie. It seems to rely on a cultural capital of being "honest".

Tony sounds great on a piano ballad like "Flying South" or an Irish-inflected number like "Devonshire and Crown" but the somewhat self-aware cliche lyrics fall a little flat over the course of an album. It's not like every pop-leaning singer/songwriter was complex lyricist or anything but that's where the pop aspect should come in and you get a giant hook to slap you into next week. There is a severe lack of slapping on Sad Bear.

There gets to this point when you sort of wish that Tony would sing and write the music but have someone else write the lyrics, but that would defeat the purpose of having a ballad-centric personal album. I think if you like Tony's previous solo output and enjoy his voice (which you should, it is great) you will like this. That being said, there isn't a lot of staying power here because it lacks the sharp turning of phrases you might expect with this sort of record and the music relies on the same familiar stylistic choices. It kind of sucks because there was obviously a lot of love put into the album so it is something you really want to love but I don't see it happening for very many people. This is a Sad Bear