Whenever people hear the word “grunge,” usually the first things to come to mind are the superstars – the Pearl Jams and Nirvanas of the world. Those who were a bit more passionate about the genre could tell you about Green River, Mudhoney, and others. Among those “others” lies one hailing from Detroit, Michigan that had a moment of glory named Sponge. Admittedly, I’m not super familiar with any record beyond their second full-length Wax Ecstatic, but the first full-length Rotting Piñata is a masterpiece that shouldn’t be overlooked. I got to see them perform almost all of this record live last year. That’s fitting because Rotting Piñata is turning twenty-five years old!
Grunge, as a whole, can be misleading. As I’ve stated before, there are metal-oriented bands, hard rock-oriented bands, alternative rock-oriented bands, and so forth. Sponge happens to fall within the latter category. That said, Rotting Piñata isn’t really what I’d call an overly gritty or aggressive effort. No denying that the Scott Weiland-esque vocal annunciation is still there, but it just feels cleaner overall. The easiest way to capture everything in one tune would be one of my personal favorites, the title track. This song rests on a very clean, fun, and upbeat riff backed by long basslines. Vocal buildup and a strong solo help it stand out, and this song couldn’t scream “1990s” any louder if it wanted to.
The softer songs are more often than not the most well crafted. The big hit from this was the classic known as “Molly (Sixteen Candles)” with its pop-rock and harmony laced chorus. This is one of those songs that if you’re into the style, it sticks in your head almost immediately. Songs like “Giants” slow these tactics down to make for a more melancholic feeling delivered in a cart of super tight guitar licks. “Drownin’” is a very depressing ballad that brings this to the fullest fruition, written around lyrics that speak of being unhappy.
On the other side, there are some that may fare better with the darker grunge seekers. Album opener “Pennywheels” carries minor chords from start to finish with harder distortion. This almost works to test the listener before breaking into the beautifully crafted title track. “Plowed” was another song that got a lot of mainstream attention at the time, but this one’s built on faster, hard rock riffs. Perhaps something that those who enjoy Foo Fighters would dig. “Neenah Menasha” is possibly the heaviest song, running on riffs similar to Alice In Chains, utilizing hard distortions with a doomy presence.
The greatest thing about Rotting Piñata is how well written all of the songs are and how successful the band was in mixing all of the different grunge tactics. There’s clear and concise flow, nothing gets too awkward, and each song holds a hot flame in its own way. Never do Sponge aim for something that’s meant to be overly complex or purposefully stripped down. Instead, it all sounds like it was naturally crafted and plays like every idea was captured without needing to be forced. Truly, it’s one of the most overlooked grunge albums of all time. If you’re a fan of Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Candlebox, Live!, or anything that fits the lighter grunge sound from that era, then what are you waiting for?
Rotting Piñata came out on August 2nd, 1994 through The WORK Group, and can be found in CD and tape cassette formats. There were very few vinyl pressings of this, so if you stumble on it be prepared to pay up. There was also a small run of reissues last year, as well as CD remasters. All can be found here!