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Tough on Tobacco: The Happy Goat

By Shikher Chaudhary | January 16, 2010

Split Magazine: Tough on TobaccoAfter nearly a decade of handling percussion for one of India’s most acclaimed and beloved bands Zero, Sidd Coutto, at the height of their popularity watched his band slowly dissolve. This provided ample opportunity for the drummer to showcase his skills as a singer/songwriter in the relatively short-lived, but almost universally praised, quintessential Indian rock super group, Helga’s Fun Castle.

With such an impressive resume, one would rightly assume Sidd Coutto’s next musical venture labeled Tough on Tobacco to draw from the pop and funk tendencies of his previous bands (which this album does occasionally flirt with), but mostly, he takes the record in a completely unexpected direction — and when he does, he leaves the listener far behind. Sidd Coutto entered the studio with a set of credible musicians to record this album, including the likes of Niranjan Dhar and Gaurav Gupta on guitars, Johan Pais on bass, Jai Row Kavi on drums and multi-instrumentalist Neil Gomes playing violin, sax and flute. On paper this lineup would probably seem like the most striking band in the scene today. Unfortunately, in reality, it resembles a group of friends jamming without any scope of a productive result, allowing the compilation of half-baked ideas into an entire album.

‘The Happy Goat’ fails exactly where Zero’s second album ‘Hook’ succeeded brilliantly, nailing melody-driven pop rock melodies into hook-filled choruses. This album is neither an instant favourite nor a slow grower, but rather a collection of unimaginative ideas that can be best described as drab, drawing on without any real focus or purpose. The album’s ten songs (available for free download) see the band unable to find its footing in any sense, proving that lack of commitment to a specific genre doesn’t always translate into a good thing.

A few listens to the opening songs is all it takes to establish a sort of catch-22 that Tough on Tobacco can write songs poppy and childish enough to be memorable — for completely the wrong reasons. ‘The Happy Goat’ opens with the subdued “Voices in My Head”, a song completely in a cappella. The second song “Already Told You” may still be forgiven with its twisting hooks and strong rhythm section which evoke his previous works. However, the album then leads into “Concert Piano”, through which the vocalist offers up a brief glimpse of a series of styles and moods, but makes no real effort to help us understand them or to see them through his eyes. “Consuella” may have the snappiest hook on the album but every other part of the song plays out like a half-assed version of a techno song.

Eclectic, to say the least, the album draws from a variety of genres, the most noticeable of which being reggae, evident on tracks like “Forest of Doom”, and the song supposedly taking over the country “Happy”. The reggae-tinged pop rock style and sing-along melodies, however, give the impression of Bob Marley rejects, and do not compensate for the overall lack in depth. “Taxi Song” comes closest to imitating the rhythmic tendencies of Dave Matthews Band, a jam band Tough on Tobacco borrows heavily from, however unlike the multi-instrumental genre-bending rock of DMB, this lacks that sense of purpose and melodic structure required to send it through the rafters.

While some songs still feature Coutto behind his drum kit banging out those influential rhythms that he is so well known for, that is probably the only saving grace for this train wreck of an album, as even in those fleeting moments when there is actually something to sink your teeth into, the band seems to be more involved with satisfying the necessities of a specific genre, leaving the songs soulless as a result.

Fake praise by the likes of critics and musicians may surround this album already. Ultimately, it falters under the weight of its own influences, begging the average rock fan to ask the age-old question: whether to judge an album based on the artists’ prior, more innovative and acclaimed output, or based solely on the albums merits.

Download ‘The Happy Goat’ at this location.


7 Comments. Post Yours Here.
  1. January 16, 2010, 7:53 pm Anand Varghese

    I haven’t heard the album yet, but you write well, and with some real insight. Split could do with more of your likes….Now I’ll have to download the album and see if I actually agree with you ;)

  2. January 16, 2010, 10:52 pm roma

    completely agree ..
    was expecting something much better from tough on tobacco!!
    they sound so diffident!!
    as mentioned …it is a train wreck of an album ..!!!

  3. January 17, 2010, 12:11 am Soumil

    Did hear about ‘ToT’, but never really felt like chasing the goat. Gonna download the album soon, as in tonight. Bytheway, great review.

  4. January 17, 2010, 10:34 pm Neeharika

    Good to see you on Split! Great review btw.
    And I completely agree with you. After Helga’s Fun Castle, I had great hopes for Tough on Tobacco. It just doesn’t cut it though.

  5. January 18, 2010, 9:37 pm Spock

    First of all great review. The independent scene in India needs more reviews such as yours to find its balance. That said: I’ve heard the album myself a few times now and I don’t think I agree entirely with your review. Before I put forth my views let me insert a few disclaimers: I have heard very little of the music of Sidd Coutto’s earlier bands – Zero (I’ve heard only Procrastination) and Helga’s Fun Castle (I’ve heard only Luke and Smoke some Ganja). So my review is based almost entirely on the album itself.

    I do agree with several of your points: The songwriting is weak, the reggae/Caribbean influenced rhythms were overused. To add to it, while I think Sidd Coutto has a good voice, he still needs to work on his singing skills. Also on many of the songs the arrangements were not tight enough, it lacked polish.

    That said the album has its shining moments: Consuella – my favorite tune in the album. I liked Voices in my head too for its inventiveness. The Capella form suited the lyrics very well. Almost all the songs had its fun moments – I like the way the word “tar” was used with an echo effect (for lack of better words to describe it) in Tough on Tobacco song. The use of bagpipes/Scottish tunes I thought worked very well in the songs they were used in. The use of vocal harmonies was almost perfect. The diversity was in my opinion a strong point of the album, especially considering it’s the a solo album and a debut one at that – it clearly showcases Sidd Coutto’s skills as an arranger (despite the lack of polish, which may be a production issue) and his comfort level with various genres.

    To summarize, may be it is indeed inferior compared to his earlier work with bands like Zero and Helga’s Fun Castle (as several of those who have commented here seem to be saying), but it’s a very capable debut as a solo album.

  6. January 18, 2010, 9:47 pm Sidd Coutto

    ‘Fake praise by the likes of critics and musicians may surround this album already’ – Wow !!! it’s music pal, some people like, some people dislike. You obviously REALLY dislike.

  7. January 19, 2010, 12:38 am Amberisch

    I liked it.
    Id download it,
    I hear it several times.
    But wont buy it..
    Id love to watch and hear it live though.
    I swear..
    I liked it again…

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