I'm so sensitive to light.
I talk a lot on this blog about my love for garage rock, for 90s hardcore, for Hot Topic mall-core emo, probably for a bunch of other shit too, but have I ever made fully clear the extent of my love for some good ol' distorted-guitar power pop? Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, the Posies, Material Issue (who will probably get their own blog entry sometime in the next few days)--that shit is my shit. If a band can crank out a good rockin' song that has power but also mixes in some killer melody that touches me on a profound level, they're always gonna be one of my favorite bands. That's Superdrag, right there.
I know a lot of people probably only know who Superdrag are because of their late-90s one-hit wonder, though. I've certainly mentioned them over the years to a wide variety of people, many of whom have responded by saying, "That 'who sucked out the feeling' band? They're actually good?" This is a shame, if you ask me. Granted, I think "Sucked Out" is a pretty decent song. That said, I think it's one of the worst songs on the album, "Regretfully Yours," from which it is taken. In fact, it's only on that album due to label pressure. Superdrag turned in a 12-song debut LP to their label, and were told that the label "didn't hear a single," and needed them to write one. So they wrote a song about being told they needed to write a marketable single, and about how soulless the whole endeavor seemed. "Who sucked out the feeling?" screamed singer John Davis on the song's chorus, and somehow it captured the hearts of middle America, probably riding in on the tail end of that whole buzzbin era. The song's ironic lyrics make the entire affair amusing, but the best part of it all is that Superdrag were able to make some really great albums over the next few years. For a while, at least, their career was secured.
What's sad is that most people don't know anything else they've ever done. And as a diehard fan, I think this is the sort of injustice that calls out for correction. The CD-R of awesome Superdrag songs that I made yesterday contains 22 really awesome songs, none of which are "Sucked Out." I wouldn't feel right posting them all, but I do think, at least on this particular occasion, that some in-depth exploration of the Superdrag back catalog is merited. So, without further ado, here are half a dozen or so incredible Superdrag songs that you must hear.
OK, I couldn't stop at just 6. This is 8 Superdrag songs, which you can either download individually or just listen to without downloading. It's a new service I haven't used on this blog before, so let me know if you have strong opinions on it one way or another.
Here's some info about the songs:
"Baby Goes To Eleven" is from Superdrag's fourth album, "Last Call For Vitriol," from 2002. This song might as well be a template for the power-pop genre; the quiet, clean opening, the drum fill that leads into the blast-off energy of the first chorus, the mixture of acoustic and distorted electric guitars, and the sheer overall catchiness of the song. I don't know how anyone can hear this one without getting it stuck in their head all day. It was a perfect leadoff track for the album it appeared on, and it's also the first song on the CD-R comp I made.
"Destination Ursa Major" is from their 1996 debut, "Regretfully Yours." It's just one of quite a few songs on this album that seem to me were prime candidates for release as a single. If it had been my label that released this album, "Sucked Out" never would have existed. This song's ascending-chord verses have a yearning yet anthemic quality that make the choruses seem more like bridges between the amazing verses, and maybe that's why a record exec would think this song doesn't fit the single template. I don't care, though. This shit is amazing, and its equally yearning lyrics provide this entry with its title (making this the third time I've used that line as a title--the other two times were for Livejournal entries I wrote between 4 and 6 years ago).
"I Guess It's American" comes from 2001 or thereabouts, and appeared on the "Greetings From Tennessee" EP and the split EP with The Anniversary, which was where I originally heard it. More recently, it was issued on the B-sides compilation "Changing Tires On The Road To Ruin," under the title "I Am Incinerator." This song is rawer and more stripped-down than most Superdrag songs, perhaps due to the fact that Superdrag were both between labels and without a second guitarist at the time it was recorded. This song gives a good idea of what Superdrag would have been like if they'd been less power-pop and more straight up rock n' roll. Result: equally great songwriting, and an enjoyable side trip into a leaner, tougher sound.
"I'm Expanding My Mind" is the opening track from their second album, "Head Trip In Every Key," released in 1998. That album was Superdrag's attempt to use their major-label funding, garnered through the success of "Sucked Out," to create the sort of classic orchestral pop album that they had never thought they'd get a chance to make. "Head Trip" is the least commercial Superdrag record, even despite the lush pop sound of songs like this one and several others on the record, and got them dropped from Elektra. They haven't been on a major label since. But they did succeed in their quest to make beautiful orchestral pop, as exemplified by this song's pastoral-sounding acoustic verses and even moreso by its soaring, reverb-laden choruses. The Brian Wilson influence really shines through on this track, making it the sonic opposite of "I Guess It's American" and showing that Superdrag are just as good with elaborate pop productions as they are with a raw, stripped-down sound.
"Lighting The Way" comes from their third album, 2000's "In The Valley Of Dying Stars." This album kind of disappeared upon its release, and I didn't locate a copy of it until over five years after its release, but it was worth the wait. Here, Superdrag return to the awesome power-pop sound of their first LP, and crank out several archetypal gems that epitomize the best of the genre. "Lighting The Way" is one of several songs on this album worth the price of admission all by itself, and it's the perfect tune to be blasting at top volume some sunny afternoon in the summer when you're driving your car too fast down a country road. After all, that's the kind of thing power pop was designed for, right?
"Phaser", though, is something else entirely. This song is the second half of a two-song medley of sorts that opens "Regretfully Yours." "Slot Machine," which begins the album, is good enough in its own right to have been a very pleasant surprise for me the first time I put this album into my Walkman back in 2002 when I bought it. However, the way "Slot Machine" trails off into an isolated guitar lead that suddenly becomes the intro to "Phaser," sweeping the rest of the band in on a trail of feedback and pulling them upward into what is probably the most stirring, anthemic riff in Superdrag's entire catalog (and that's really saying something) was enough to completely blow my mind the first time I heard it. I was already so into "Slot Machine" that I couldn't believe that the transition into the second song was making the album even BETTER. And yet it did. It always does. Whenever I hear this song, no matter how crappy of a day I'm having, I feel for those three brief minutes that nothing can go wrong.
"Remain Yer Strange" is another one from "Last Call For Vitriol," probably the most straight-ahead of the Superdrag albums. This is a really straight-ahead song, mixing the more expansive production sound of "Baby Goes to Eleven" with the rockin' hooks of "I Guess It's American" to create a sure-fire toe tapper. My favorite part of this song is the way that, even when it drops into the half-speed choruses, it never seems to lose the rapid-fire energy of its uptempo verses. This is another sunny afternoon driving-too-fast sort of tune, from a band who has written quite a few of those.
"Sold You An Alibi" is another one from "Head Trip In Every Key," but unlike "I'm Expanding My Mind," which is a bit out of character for the standard Superdrag sound, this one fits right in with the rest of these tracks. It's uptempo, it's got distortion on the guitars, it's got a super-catchy verse riff, everything you've come to expect. Of course, the smooth melodies on the chorus reflect the purer pop sensibility that informed the entirety of this album, but that's certainly not a negative point. The additional emotional layer added by the prettier chorus is a welcome one.
All right, hope you guys enjoyed these. I realize this isn't the best written blog entry I've ever posted, but this one is really just about these great, great songs. Ignore my words if you have to, but don't miss out on this awesome music.