Superchunk continues string of mediocrity

· Oct 10, 2001 Tweet

P>Superchunk can perhaps be recognized as one of the seminal indie rock bands of the last decade. From their self-titled debut in 1990 to their most recent and 10th full-length album, Here’s to Shutting Up, they have always been at the forefront of the indie scene. It used to be all guitar rock for lead man Mac McCaughan, heavy with the grungy distorted guitar — a staple of the early 1990s northwest crews, except the group was implementing this style well before Nirvana reigned. But in recent years they have turned down the volume, or at least the gain, and toyed with everything from strings to horns to organs, leading indie rockers to a more mature musical palette.

Here’s to Shutting Up kicks off the first track, “Late Century Dream,” with a one-handed, high-register organ solo that floats over bass and drums and is later taken up by the guitar. The organ falls to the background, but remains subtly present for the rest of the songs. McCaughan’s vocals already sound gentler than they did on the last album, and the end of the track throws in a nice string arrangement for good measure. But fret not, fans of Superchunk’s earlier pure rock; already on the second track, “Rainy Streets,” we hear a poppier, cleaner version of the Superchunk of old.

But what’s this on track three? “Phone Sex”? A country ballad, you say? Yes, complete with pedal steel guitar, a fiddle and a chorus that seems rather daunting in light of recent events: “Plane crash footage on TV/ I know, I know that could be me.”

There isn’t a single track on this album that falls flat on the ears, but there also isn’t really a track that strikes the ear in an extraordinary way. “Out on the Wings” comes closest, with the soaring guitar riffs and hooks that have made most great Superchunk songs, but it’s a bit trying on the patience, clocking in at almost six minutes. The album’s low point occurs on “Florida’s on Fire,” which drudges on uninterestingly for the first two minutes, and just when you think it’s going to get good, it gets mediocre.

Even though this album is a bit stripped-down from 1999’s Come Pick Me Up, it doesn’t sound that much different, making it appear that perhaps Superchunk has fallen into an all-out rut. A rut full of good three- and four-minute mid-tempo rock songs but nothing that pushes the limits of their genre — limits they helped establish. Limits it is frankly time for them to expand. The album’s closing, “Drool Collection,” with a more conventional rock beat and the sampling of some peculiar sound effects, seems close to something new. At the least, it’s a promise they can build on looking toward their 11th album.

Grade: BC

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This article was published Oct 10, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Oct 10, 2001 at 12:00 am

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