Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Album Of The Year (Of The Week): Superchunk's 'What A Time To Be Alive'!

Superchunk have never made a bad album and, if they did, how would we know?

After all, these are the guys we all went to school with who were just a little funnier than we were, more musically talented than we were, and, most importantly of all, they knew it.

By the time we'd finally talked our parents into springing for name-brand threads so we could be like the cool kids, they'd discovered thrift shops and were now wearing the exact same hand-me-down "Trix are for kids" t-shirts and corduroy bell bottoms that our mom had just dropped off at the local Goodwill.

Naturally, when they put their own band together, they did so at just the right time to fill the void left by the Mats and Soul Asylum making polished records that bore but the faintest resemblance to the brash young snots we'd all fallen in love with on Let It Be and Hangtime, respectively.

By the time R.E.M. went acoustic, all bets were off. We needed a fix of teenage angst delivered at top volume and we needed it now.

Superchunk's second album, No Pocky For Kitty arrived a mere month after Nirvana released Nevermind.

Recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini, Kitty bristles with an urgency that Nirvana and punk producer Butch Vig had inexplicably traded for "More Than A Feeling" and "Eighties" re-writes (not that we're complaining). As a result, Nevermind is the album you grab when you wanna re-live the Nineties that actually happened. Kitty is the album you grab when you wanna re-live the Nineties that could have happened had an honest grass roots musical movement not been co-opted by the majors and its growth forever stunted.

In one sense, Superchunk are the band that never grew up, yet they've been smart to only incrementally tweak the formula over the years that each album is both familiar, yet, in many ways, a complete surprise.

With bassist Laura Ballance's withdrawal from touring in 2013, we've been nervously waiting for the proverbial "other shoe" to drop, but, as difficult as it may be for her, she still manages to "bring it", as the kids say. Her decision to stop touring was a daunting reminder of just how tenuous and fragile life can be and how time catches up to us all.

The upside, of course, is that the band could not have picked a better touring bassist than Windy City heartthrob Jason Narducy, but Laura's presence on What A Time To Be Alive is such a fresh kick in the pants that you can't help think the break from touring has kept her fresh for the studio.

Meanwhile, Jon Wurster's playing is as elastic and Moon-like as ever. Just listening to him pound the skins for the duration of the album burns more calories than middle-aged sex. Scout's honor!

Mac McCaughan remains the defiant soul of the band, with a voice (both as a singer and a songwriter) that hasn't changed since he was fifteen. We should all be so lucky.

Granted, the tour shirt purchased in '94 no longer fits and cranking anything too loud these days disturbs the neighbors or wakes the kids, but there will always be something about balancing the checkbook to Superchunk that keeps the years, and the wolves, at bay.

With rent and utilities coming due any day now, this album couldn't have arrived at a better time. 

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