Nic Cester - Sugar Rush
A confession: I was never much of a Jet fan.
'Are You Gonna Be My Girl', which came out in 2003 and is probably their most recognisable song, was enjoyable in isolation. Around that time – in the wake of The Strokes’ Is This It (2001) and The Vines’ Highly Evolved (2002) – we were all in the mood for rock revivalism. As the hype machine wound down, though, it was difficult to draw the line between revival and rehash. Rock really was dead, it turned out. We had just warmed her up briefly. I wasn’t alone it this view, by the way; it was one that followed Jet throughout their career, despite their international success.
Thankfully, this is not another Jet record. That much is worth repeating, actually: if you come to Sugar Rush looking for Shine On, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, Cester has pushed forward. This solo album was written in Italy, where he moved several years ago after Jet first disbanded, in 2012. (They reformed last year.) For years, he said, he barely picked up a guitar, and that shows here.
This record is almost anti-guitar. The six strings are low in the mix, if they feature at all. To go from fronting one of Australia’s most successful rock exports to this is quite something. You get the impression he was burned out from being a rock star, and was needing to recuperate. “So I wake myself/From the strangest dreams,” he sings in ‘Strange Dreams’. “Of broken chords/And melodies.”
Sugar Rush feels like a post-Jet come-down. If Jet was Cester’s 20s, this is his 30s: more self-assured, less caustic. In Jet, Cester played the part of rock frontman in the most homogeneous sense. In his solo work, he is much more complex. The rhythm section is tight and colourful. The basslines, which drive many of the songs (some were actually written on the bass guitar), wind through the album, climbing and falling. You want to follow along and see where they go. Speaking with Double J’s Myf Warhurst, Cester mentioned falling in love with Brazilian music in the period before he wrote Sugar Rush, and you can hear that influence. There are shades of Tame Impala’s silky basslines and tambourine. Cester’s scratchy croon – surely one of the best in Oz music – holds it all together, particularly on songs like ‘God Knows’, which give him a lot of room to breathe.
It is refreshing, and encouraging, to hear an Australian artist – especially one who has flown so high – do something new. There is courage in that. Think about it: Cester could have made Jet 2.0. and settled into a comfortable career. That he has forged a different route, and delivered a sonically rich record of strong melodies and memorable songs, reveals his talent and integrity as a songwriter.