It’s fair to say that Savage Garden – as distinct from the solo work of Darren Hayes, which I have much admired – is not usually deployed as a positive comparison by me. There’s a bit too much treacle in that pudding, or is it too much gunk in that machine, for much love at all.
However, when I tell you that Bats puts me in mind of a more tortured/less sticky Savage Garden believe me when I say that it’s mostly meant as a compliment.
At their best, Cub Sport – the core of Tim Nelson and Sam Netterfield, with Zoe Davis and Dan Puusaari – have a wistful hurt underneath the wash of soft electronic sounds that translates as pop songs with pain as their common denominator but not their sole reason to exist.
It’s a good arrangement for songs such as Good Guys Do (skittish beats, Nelson singing “you know I’m breaking my back” more in regret than remonstration, and a virtual sheet of gauze draped across the sound) and Let U (slow soul, finger snaps and Nelson wishing he could let go), where movement continues.
And as well as taking O Lord out of the potentially tricky ground of over-egged soul pop, it makes the title track, a boy band song in waiting, feel more like an adult night time cruise than the afternoon unison dance it threatens to be.
Where Cub Sport lose me though is in spreading that gauze I mentioned earlier across the whole album. There’s a growing sense of softness as the album progresses, that even when tempos change serves to make everything blurry around the edges.
Crush, for example, which is a Frank Ocean island in an ocean of more Antipodean pop, would have benefited from some sharpness to emphasise its rhythm alongside its blues. And Temporarily could also have kicked up half a gear more to cut through, to indeed lift it from Garden to Hayes territory.
This is before we get to the bonus track, Jellybean’s Graduation Song, which is so completely of the mid-late ‘90s Brisbane that I was forced to check it had not appeared as a b-side of Truly Madly Deeply or the like.
There’s work to be done here to really channel the “emotional pop” core of Nelson’s songs into consistently emotionally powerful pop songs, but it looks achievable.