Rotting Pinata (Work '95) Rating: A-
Naive fool that I am, when I started this Web site one of my main goals was to promote underrated/overlooked bands such as Sponge, who had a couple of minor hits but these days seem to have faded from public consciousness. Granted, I aim to tackle most of the "major" bands eventually, but when it comes time to picking out an album to review I often find myself equally drawn to lesser known acts I feel almost obligated to champion. Sponge definitely falls into that category, and one listen to Rotting Pinata instantly reminded me of how good this album is. File it under grunge, alternative rock, or hard rock - whatever floats your boat - this is just good music to me, occasionally generic and breaking no new ground but doing so with purposeful songs and plenty of conviction. "Pennywheels" is an eerie Alice In Chains-like album opener that showcases the explosive guitar tandem of Mike Cross and Joey Mazzola, as well as the rough and ready vocals of Vinnie Dombrowski. "Rotting Pinata" is even better in the way it combines jangly Toad The Wet Sprocket-like guitars with the surging hard rock power of Pearl Jam. Some great guitar work, too, but the album's best guitar solo comes next at the end of "Giants," which ambitiously takes the band into power ballad territory with their moody intensity intact. The next track is less impressive but isn't bad by any means, as "Neenah Menasha" features tribal drums and a soaring melody that reminds me of Catherine Wheel (actually, Sponge often reminds me of other bands, which is perhaps one of the reasons why they never got their just due for their own merits), while "Miles" is another standout song highlighted by its galloping groove and sing along-able vocal. "Plowed" is one of those minor hits I mentioned, and its great groove/riff and memorably moody vocals ("...in a world of human wreckage") were the reasons I bought this album way back when. "Drownin'" is an emotional ballad with power (as opposed to a cheesy power ballad) on which I can really feel the singer's anguish, and "Molly (Sixteen Candles)" is another excellent song, this one a musically upbeat if lyrically sad pop number with the album's catchiest chorus (as such, this became minor hit #2, and it's the one song all these years later that you still might hear on the radio). After that superb three-song sequence, one thought comes to mind - damn, this is a good album! Continuing, "Fields" offers more passionate vocals and moody (there's that word again), hard rocking musicianship, before "Rainin'" ends the album with another memorable mid-tempo, half-ballad/half-hard rock melody. This song's overly long fadeout and a few lesser moments aside, Rotting Pinata was a highly accomplished debut album that all but begs to be revisited, as Sponge deserve a better fate than to be vaguely remembered as a second tier grunge band.

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