The notion of what constitutes an ‘alternative’ has adopted numerous faces over the last few years. A lot of that can be attributed to the blanket term of alternative rock become even more nebulous, but the Britrock boom of the early 2010s, while not devoid of quality in some aspects, saw it rendered virtually meaningless with crossover potential touted above actual musical style. Thankfully the term has been almost fully reclaimed at this point by the slew of bands fully flying the flag for truly exciting rock music, but even among all of them, few bands have come across as more as an alternative than Puppy. Despite being unquestionably still in their infancy, they’ve already strived to do the unthinkable and reunite the previously splintered tribes, with a sound that’s equal parts Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins and Deftones that, even on their earliest EPs, has never been disjointed or fragmented. Combined with Jock Norton’s inimitable vocal style, Puppy’s potential to do something truly mind-blowing within the alternative scene has never been brought into question, and debut album The Goat could easily be the moment that sees all that hype and promise crystallise into something remarkable.
Even then though, rampant hyperbole is very much a thing, especially with albums like this that have already been surrounded by buzz, and it ultimately places The Goat in a position of instability right from the start. It’s the industry that Puppy have come through in; bands will rake in the praise and get left out in the cold almost immediately afterwards. But putting all of that aside, there’s a judgement that needs to be made, and with The Goat, it’s the first album since Creeper’s Eternity, In Your Arms that has seen a band top their entire back catalogue in a way that makes almost every other band look embarrassing by comparison, hyperbole be damned. And yet, even though Creeper still hold that vaunted peak of rock perfection even after their untimely demise, Puppy are closing in on it, and an album like The Goat that shows just how stunningly rich and creative alt-rock can be is the most ironclad piece of evidence possible for why.
And sure, Puppy have always had that grander appeal in their defiantly unique and genre-free approach to making music, but this is it in its definitive form here, and while the individual sounds fused are easy to pick up on and isolate, there’s not a single moment that feels unwieldy or where the seams between each piece show. The best example is Just Like You with its Iron Maiden-flavoured trad-metal gallop that can still pack in an astute ear for a killer power-pop melody, but tracks like Poor Me and Bathe In Blood only deepen Puppy’s repertoire even further, both in terms of musical co-option and in how the greatest potential is squeezed out of them. There’s not one moment that feels like filler or is out of place here, and Puppy make the absolute most of it; there’s an instantly metallic quality in how the guitars and bass so deliberately peel away, beefed up with the snarl and sneer of grunge or even hints of punk, the latter especially being true on the riff-storm of I Feel An Evil. It’s all topped off by a vocal style by Jock Norton that falls somewhere in between Billy Corgan and Rivers Cuomo, oozing with the unshakable melodies of ‘90s alt-rock and multi-tracked to absolute perfection on tracks like Black Hole and World Stands Still for some truly world-class hook-writing. The most impressive thing, though, is that it’s hard to explain how all of this even comes together, and yet some sort of black magic has given Puppy the skill to match such disparate parts for an utterly spectacular listen that feels completely natural from start to finish.
In a way, the band that The Goat has the most in common with is Ghost, partly through how concisely such a wide gamut of sounds is pitted together with almost no fuss, and partly because of just how much fun Puppy are clearly having at toying around with all the natural layers of subversion such a distinct sound welcomes. There’s a good deal of that that can be gleaned from the artwork alone, but as power-pop and metal clash, what’s left in the middle is a delirious, almost ridiculous collision that, again, Puppy make no concessions for and totally own; never has a line like “curse my blackest soul” on Vengeance been delivered with such euphoria and glistening joy. So while tracks like Entombed and Demons continue to get along with walls of searing, low-end riffage (and do so mightily well, at that), there’s something that feels so much more satisfying about Poor Me or World Stands Still launching into gigantic pop-rock hooks with reckless abandon and as much dark, occult imagery they can pack in, or even probably the closest thing to a grunge ballad on here with Nightwalker. Above all, it’s just such a refreshing take on a theme that can be so unnecessarily self-serious, and given how much Puppy already have to offer that’s totally their own, it’s just even more of an already fantastic thing.
Factor in all of that and even a bit more, and The Goat is so close to being an absolutely perfect listen, breathing life into alt-rock to an extent that hasn’t been seen since the genre’s Wild West period in the ‘90s, and doing enough to stand among even the greats of the time. Sure, it’s easy to get lost in the hype and the constant stream of bold claims, but Puppy have arrived just as that blue moon is out and such claims are justly warranted. And even then, this feels like a band for whom the surface of their creativity hasn’t even been scratched, and can find an even more comfortable home in rock, metal or anywhere in between. And thus, whether that title is in reference to the sacrificial goat or in the acrostic sense for ‘greatest of all time’, neither could be more appropriate.
For fans of: Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Metallica
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Goat’ by Puppy is released on 25th January on Spinefarm Records.