Industry Giants

Superdrag

Superdrag Sound Laboratories, 2009

http://www.superdrag.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/17/2009

The proceedings begin with a raw, frenetic backbeat under a repeating phrase whose punkish, spit-out-the-words tone is the emotional antithesis of its content:

“Slow to speak, slow to anger
Slow to speak, slow to anger
Slow to speak, slow to anger
Slow to speak, slow to anger”

Then the guitars join in with a huge, distorted, greasy, repeating riff that pushes the vocals that much harder:

“Slow to speak, slow to anger
Slow to speak, slow to anger
Slow to speak, slow to anger
Slow to speak, slow to anger
The opposite of how I feel
The opposite of how I live
There’s no justice in this deal
It’s something infinitely greater”

Superdrag has a history of front-loading their albums with strong openers, but this, the first album released by the band’s original lineup in 11 years, might be the strongest ever.  The driving power chords, thunderous drums and anthemic, pleasantly ragged vocals of “Slow To Anger” function like head-banging fanfare, announcing simply and certainly, “We’re back.”

Superdrag – John Davis, Brandon Fisher, Tom Pappas and Don Coffey -- also has a history of internal/external chaos rivaling bands like the Gin Blossoms and Fleetwood Mac.  From their first moment of success with 1996’s Regretfully Yours, the band spiraled into serial battles for control with their original label (Elektra), major stylistic shifts, Pappas’s departure, Fisher’s departure, Davis’ bouts with alcoholism, and so on until Davis, Coffey and company called it quits in 2003.  Four years later the original quartet got together for a series of reunion shows, and now… here we are.

What’s great about the here and now of Superdrag is that this reunion doesn’t feel gratuitous in the least.  Certainly the album title is a self-deprecating dig at their checkered history within the music industry; cult favorites, yes -- industry giants, not exactly.  What’s clear is that these guys got back together for exactly the right reason -- because they wanted to make music together again – and it shows in every track.  bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

Following up on the darkly manic power-pop energy of “Slow To Anger,” “Live And Breathe” has a dreamy quality that reminds me of some of Fountains Of Wayne’s more melodic midtempo tunes.  The gorgeous juxtaposition of melody and dissonance continues with “I Only Want A Place I Can Stay,” which, while it’s still got dirty, distorted guitars, is at its core a Replacements-flavored power-pop song.  The funky ocean-sounds fadeout is nice, too, an atmospheric touch that reminds you of the band’s defiantly experimental nature. 

“Everything’ll Be Made Right” and “Try” offer more rich, distorted melodicism.  In between, bassist Tom Pappas’s first-ever lead vocal vehicle “Cheap Poltergeists” sounds -- not coincidentally, I’m sure -- more than a little Cheap Trick in its lush power-pop overtones, though it also carries more than a little Clash-styled drive on the verses.  Guitarist Brandon Fisher’s hooky, harmony-rich “Ready To Go” sounds like the Gin Blossoms on a distortion kick.  And “Filthy & Afraid,” with its 4/4 backbeat, monster-truck riffing, rich melody and Freudian lyrics, is Superdrag in a nutshell -- dark and catchy, poetic and anthemic, raucous and thoughtful all at once.

One of the things you’re afraid of with a reunion album is that, while the guys will be older and wiser, they’ll also be tamer and not as interesting (see: Bruce Springsteen’s latest).  These guys aren’t.  They might be a few years older, but they’re as off-the-rails out there as ever on songs like Pappas’ hoot-worthy zombie-fest “You’re Alive” and Davis’ bulldozing rant “5 Minutes Ahead Of The Chaos.”  It puts a smile on your face imagining these four guys back in the game together, drenched in sweat, slamming their heads back and forth, screaming into the mike, having a blast.

Closing out this stellar set, “Aspartame” features heavy-as-they-come verses, a repeating reggae break and a lyric that’s pop philosophizing at its most entertaining.  And “Deathblow To Your Pride” is a cathartic explosion of rock and roll goodness, all angry vocals, rich riffage and brilliant dynamics.

Industry Giants as a whole is nothing short of incendiary; this is excellent material, played with exuberant passion.  Superdrag was always about that mixture of ferocity and melody, but that very core of passion automatically became the biggest hurdle the band faced in reuniting – could they recapture the depth of emotion behind their best music?  Industry Giants could easily have been a disaster, a sop to either fans or wallet that lost the center of what the band was about -- but it doesn’t.  This is an album that matters, that has real impact; this is a band playing like they mean it.

Granted it’s only March, but I’ll be amazed if Industry Giants doesn’t make a slew of Best of 2009 lists come December.  Much more than merely a successful reunion disc, this might just be the best album of Superdrag’s acclaimed career.  Turn it on, turn it up and judge for yourself.

Rating: A

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© 2009 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Superdrag Sound Laboratories, and is used for informational purposes only.