Tough on Tobacco: The Happy Goat
After 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.