The Adults review

by Nick Bollinger / 06 August, 2011
Shihad’s Jon Toogood becomes an Adult.
What are you going to do when you grow up? It’s the question two decades in the country’s most successful and enduring hard rock band can postpone, but only for so long. And with his 40th birthday looming, Jon Too-good – Shihad’s spring-loaded frontman – proposes an answer with a project he pointedly calls the Adults.

It began with Toogood, on sabbatical from his career band, sketching out song ideas in a home studio, but took on a larger life when he enlisted the help of a few peers. The result is a serious sonic pop album, which takes in brooding electronica, country balladry, samba beats and excursions in 5/4 time, while conspicuously avoiding the metal-edged rock with which Toogood made his name.

One indicator of newfound maturity might be the number of women with whom Toogood has collaborated here. Listening to the lullaby Sleep Me Tight, written and sung with Anika Moa, reminds us how far we are from the testosterone-fuelled rock of Shihad.

Three collaborations with Julia Deans take the pair places one can’t imagine either of them going on their own, and it is a revelation how beautifully they harmonise. For the brisk A New Beginning, their voices meet in a semi-electro soundscape against a lively Latin beat. The waltz-time Anniversary Day finds them dancing somewhere close to country.

By contrast, the musical force of Shayne Carter is so immutable that Toogood has no choice but to let himself be drawn into it, and with Gary Sullivan’s powerful drums joining Carter’s snarling guitars, Long Way Off and Most Important could be escapees from a Dimmer set. But add the ingredient of Karoline Tamati (aka Ladi6) and we are back into uncharted territory; Nothing to Lose is an original fusion of dark rock, electronica and R&B that works like a charm.

Just as vital, if not as obvious, are non-singing contributions from Tiki Taane, Riki Gooch and Nick Roughan, all of whom have helped, in their recognisable ways, to give the album its sophisticated sonic shape. Taane and Gooch, in particular, bring suggestions of dub and funk, previously foreign to Toogood’s work.

But if the Adults find Toogood creating a new musical identity befitting of a maturing rocker, they also remind us his work was always defined by intensity and passion. And when he sings, “What’s most important is you’ve given your all, given your all, given your all” in one of the album’s many great earworming choruses, he might be surveying his whole career.

THE ADULTS, the Adults (Warner).

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