Reviews: Sugarfree

Sugarfree – Sa Wakas (2003)
Can’t think of any other song that starts and sounds like “white lace and promises” then puts a dagger into your heart right on the fourth line. And then mercilessly drowns you in the chorus. That vaguely optimistic, vaguely in denial “Ito ang unang araw na wala ka na,” reminds me of another break-up song, Beck’s “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” though it doesn’t quite reach the same level of tonal ambiguity as “Unang Araw.” There’s also this “Monkey Wrench” kind of break-up catharsis in there but it’s more sad/re-assuring than angry. It’s like remembering your first day together and then realizing this is the first day after your last. It’s like cycling thru the five stages of grief, but you’re stuck between acceptance and denial for the most part. Sugarfree write songs about love that will make you swear never to fall ever again. And yet also tells you how sad it is to be alone (“Mariposa”) — among other things: depression (“Insomya”), growing old (“Fade Away”), and the glory days of pre-videocall telebabad (“Telepono”), which also tells us incidentally, how technology can connect and disconenct us — from other people, from reality. Years before Junot Diaz’s The Cheater’s Guide to Love, Ebe Dancel sings about love that would linger on long after it ended (“Burnout”). With a simple last-minute switch from past to future tense, Ebe gave us that immortal the half-life of love is forever. A

Sugarfree – Dramachine (2004)
How’s this different from their first? Ebe wrote more distorted riffs into his Dramachine, which Mitch Singson answered with prolly his best works on drums yet. Or ever. Including his works with Ciudad, yes. And the best songs here are punchier, maybe more immediate for a wider audience (“Sinta,” “Tulog Na”). Ebe’s self deprecating humor (“Hari Ng Sablay”) works better here than in the one about cheating on the first album. There’s nothing here that matches the heartaches of “Unang Araw” and “Burnout,” but there’s one about moving on (“Kwarto”) and finding what makes one truly happy (Natagpuan ko na ang tunay kong papaya). And it also have that giddy as first date “Prom.” A

Sugarfree – Tala-Arawan (2006)
Sugarfree returns with a more restraint third album. With less distorted guitars, slower tempos, more silence and spaces and more introspection. Older, wiser. “Dear Kuya” is the perfect AT&T jingle it never was. “Kung Ayaw Mo Na Sa Akin” is “Burnout” for the mid-aughts irony; “Huling Gabi” is Before Sunrise to “Unang Araw.” There’s probably little here that they haven’t covered before, but they sure could write about them again. Some deeper, some at least as good as before. Ebe cycles thru losing, finding, pining, searching, waiting, to finally finding that someone (“Kailan Ka Ba?” “Ikaw Pala”). And I swear it’s way way way way way way way way way way way way way way better than that duet by Bryan Adams and Barbra Streisand. Btw, “Barbra Streisand” is a good song. A

Sugarfree – Mornings & Airports (2009)
This is Sugarfree’s Sticker Happy. Not only that the songs sound and feel more varied/different/adventurous than before, but also in that the songs aren’t about things easily relatable to teens and twenty-somethings anymore. These songs are about mornings, airports, twin beds, being hungry, sleepy, the life on the road, the constant gigging, the demands of being in a successful band. Even “Wala Nang Hihilingin” hints on an intermittent LDR due to out of town gigs. Well, not all the songs are, really. Some songs are still about heartbreaks and stuff. It’s just that, whenever Ebe threads the same old narratives, it takes a little longer to get there this time. Side A is as solid as on any of their previous outings (“Feels Like”, “Patawad”) but Side B is kinda meh, save for “Form Factor.” B+

Sugarfree – 100% Greatest Hits (2011)
I remember calling the label’s (office?) number once, asked if there were still remaining copies of the repackaged second album, and the person on the line told me that initially, there were plans to reissue the band’s albums, in time for the band’s farewell tour. But since that would take more time, effort, money — y’know, reprinting CDs, sleeves, etc. — they ended up going for this. Which is very much worth it if you don’t own all their albums, especially the first three, but pretty worthless if you do. Hastily, lazily, thrown together for the sole reason of you-know-what — this is a prime example of that. I can do without the overly sentimental “Makita Kang Muli,” one of the two songs here not penned by the band. And I can forgive the lack of imagination (the brown envelop cover art, the title) but not the obvious lack of love and care. If they bothered to include the Apo cover, why not their cover of Eraserheads’ “Tikman”? Why not include those rare tracks they used to insert back when repackaging was a hot trend? Why not include that rare gem “Cuida”? Or the alternate/live versions of “Burnout” and “Mariposa”? Sure, this has all of their best-known hits, but a lot of their best songs are also missing: “Fade Away”, “Ikaw Pala”, “Kailan Ka Ba?” “Patawad,” just to name a few. 100% Greatest Hits? More like 100% Cash Grab is what it is.


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