Dug up after nine years? Well, I guess it was gestating anyway.
The day that I realized Mac McCaughan was my dad was a difficult one.
I was listening to Majesty Shredding, the band’s first full-length album in nine years (yeah, nine! The Wrens release albums in quicker succession) (wait, check that, they don’t). I liked it. You see, I like Superchunk. They were a cornerstone band for me, a staple, a beacon of hope among the pop punk sneer kings, and a faster, harder indie than Pavement. They were serious enough that emo kids liked them. They were fun. Heck, they are fun, still, even though they’re in their mid-forties and have seemingly stretched beyond any sort of rock-n-roll shelf life. But anybody can build up a healthy layer of rust over nine years, so it was with medium to venti trepidation that I approached it.
I was so happy that I gushed. I mean, obviously I liked it, I said as much, but I had to write a blurb about it for a nifty little music licensing firm (who shall remain nameless because I like writing for them) and I had to make the record look really good. So that, the knowledge I was listening to a new Superchunk album (remember, nine years after the last one), and the fact I was listening to it, like, three months in advance or something of its release was pretty special. I ended up sounding a little more hyperbolic than, in hindsight, I would have liked. “It’s among their best!” “The band sounds absolutely refreshed!” “Add any of these songs to any mixtape to make it better!” “I would gladly trade either hand for more Superchunk music!” OK, that last one wasn’t true, but it makes for a better story.
So here I am to rectify my comments, tone myself down a little bit, and yet still give these elder statespersons of 1990s college rock a fitting tribute, especially to welcome them back after such a long absence. In fact, I hoped they were off participating in far-out, nonsensical, fantastic adventures – perhaps something A-Team–esque so that I could give their hiatus a heightened sense of intrigue and paint them in a heroic light. The band lined up so perfectly, I could just see it working – Mac, the brains of the operation; bassist Laura Ballance, the looks (sorry Laura – Templeton Peck was useful, right?); drummer Jon Wurster, the muscle; and of course, wild card “Howlin’ Mad” Jim Wilbur. Their vigilante exploits skirting the law to save those in need would never be chronicled in the archives of Pitchfork, the band would be too humble to admit to them.
Well of course that didn’t happen. Mac and Laura did this record label thing, Merge or whatever, and put out some good records I guess, Arcade Fire blah blah blah. Right? Jon Wurster played or recorded with just about everybody, wrote and performed some comedy. Heard of Scharpling and Wurster? Yep, that’s him. Jim Wilbur? Wild card.
So boring, you know? But then, there was Leaves in the Gutter, an EP with new material, in 2009. I was like, whoa, really? More Superchunk? That’s pretty cool. Then the news: Majesty Shredding! Sounded hot, like all awesome good stuff. And then I had it – in my hands! (Well, not literally. MP3s.) And it was hot! I was unbelievably excited. I kind of was a little nonplussed throughout the first three tracks though, one of which was lead single and standard mid-tempo indie tune “Digging for Something,” which I called “catchier than a cold and 100% more pleasant,” and I now find to be more second single fare, like Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You” (crap, I can’t believe I just typed “Gin Blossoms” in a Superchunk review) or whatever second single Foo Fighters releases on any of their albums. As in, more toned down and not quite as exciting as the first single, the latter of which should represent the best material on the album. “Rosemarie” is one of their most boring songs ever, at track 3. It’s high on the tracklist why?
And how about that best material? Well, I can promise you that you won’t get away from this column without hearing the word “pogo,” an essential verb when discussing Superchunk. Energy is certainly high on “Crossed Wires,” one of my new favorites. Wanna pogo some more? Try “Slow Drip,” “Rope Light,” or the awesome “Learned to Surf.” “Fractures in Plaster,” a wonderful ballad stuck in the middle of the album, tugs at my new-dad heartstrings as fantastic adventures await father and young son within. And the album ends on a great high note with “Everything at Once,” “one of the best songs they’ve ever written, with its chorus of ‘Here’s a song about nothing / and everything at once’ the Superchunk blueprint of suburban hyperbole.” Yes I wrote that. And while Superchunk certainly mined “suburban hyperbole” and dissatisfaction for an exciting career, I probably whiffed on the “one of the best songs ever!!!!!!” part. But, it’s a really good song.
You know, if Majesty Shredding came out in the mid-1990s, it probably would be gathering dust in bins at used CD stores. Instead, it comes as a breath of fresh air from a band that’s been silent too long. That they wrote songs that aren’t disappointing and proved they still “have it,” is icing. Actually that’s pretty important. I’m dreading a new Pixies album.
Speaking of, funny story, I once insinuated to Frank Black (as he was touring at the time) that I was his long lost son… no, another time then. Today, Mac McCaughan’s my father, king of the dad-rockers. Wanna have a catch?
RIYL: Portastatic, Buffalo Tom, OK Go