SUPERCHUNK On The Mouth (City Slang)

SUPERCHUNK Foolish (City Slang)

SUPERCHUNK Incidental Music 1991-95 (City Slang)

Two studio albums and a double compilation of odds and ends neatly answer the question of what Superchunk were up to prior to last year’s fine "Indoor Living". The answer seems to be, well, not a lot really: nothing here has the controlled, flexing power which made that album such a surprisingly fine listen, these albums being more raucous, but with little evidence of songwriting talent beneath all the noise. Not great, but just look what they’ve become.

SUPERCHUNK Indoor Living (City Slang)

"Indoor Living" is the fifth album release from this American quartet, but the first to make my acquaintance, despite the usual acreages devoted to them in the music press. Regrets, I’ve had a few, and not getting into Superchunk before now must be one of them, because this is fantastic. Imagine the best bits of, ooh, every post-punk American underground band rolled into one handy package and that’ll get you approximately into the ballpark Superchunk operate from. Take Sonic Youth at their uncharacteristically most tuneful (moments on "Goo" suggest themselves as examples), the thundering self-assuredness of the Smashing Pumpkins at their most convincing (without the bombast) and a lyrical mischievousness that goes some way to emulating Pavement’s Steven Malkmus and you’d be some way to imagining the greatness of Superchunk. Then there’s the great thick wads of guitars and boy/grrl vocals that evoke images of a Royal Trux who bothered to rehearse every now and then, all wrapped around melodies that sound unremarkable at first but whose deceptive melodiousness begins to snag you three or four listens along the line.

Forthcoming single "Watery Hands" is a thunderously tuneful goodie, but points are also scored by the opener "Unbelievable Things", which explains and contains the album’s title ("When you commissioned your cage/Indoor living became all the rage"), the more laid-back and more obviously Pavementesque "Song For Marion Brown" and the closing double whammy of "European Medicine" and the playful "Martinis On The Roof".

Superchunk make me kind of nostalgic for the old days, when "The Chart Show" used to feature the indie chart every fourth week, and instead of videos you’d get fobbed off with staring at a picture of Pavement or Sugar for thirty seconds, ’cos in those days indie bands couldn’t afford to make videos...sigh. A deal of the excitement of being involved in something fresh, exciting and way, way out of the mainstream survives in the music of Superchunk.

SUPERCHUNK Come Pick Me Up (Merge)

Superchunk's last album, the career-besting "Indoor Living", was a stunner. The fully-interlocking tunes, the kooky but cute lyrics, the layer upon layer of rippling guitar noise piled up in the mix, it was a tragically-ignored artistic triumph, a kind of Sonic Youth-play-pop gem. "Come Pick Me Up", in unfortunate contrast, sees the Chunk regress back into the puppy-dog enthusiastic but ultimately tiring alt-rock ghetto from which they sprang. Which isn't to say that this album hasn't had acres of craft, care, attention and affection lavished on it during its creation, or to deny that Jim O 'Rourke's production adds a welcome patchouli fragrance of psychedelia to the band's gruff guitar sound. It's just that, no matter how many spins you treat "Come Pick Me Up" to, it never engages with the listener: it just sits there, spooning out tight, methodical melody and oblique lyrics for forty minutes until, ultimately, you want to listen to something less passive and polite and more confrontational instead. Something like "Indoor Living", for example.