Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Soul survivors

Posted By on Wed, Sep 1, 1999 at 12:00 AM

For almost ten years Superchunk (Jon Wurster, drums; Mac McCaughan, guitar, vocals; Jim Wilbur, guitar; Laura Balance, bass) have written, recorded, toured and distributed their own records—a trillion of them plus singles and EPs—while also signing bands, selling T-shirts, doing press, and answering Merge’s telephone. In an ironic twist, Superchunk has become what people in the ’70s and ’80s referred to the ’60s superstar-hippies as: survivors. Yet this pseudo-tribute, tantamount to having a statue made in your honor while you are still alive (a nice thought, but really, I’m not dead yet), just doesn’t do justice to the continued power of Superchunk’s music or its continued impact on underground rock ’n’ roll.

Its new album, Come Pick Me Up — produced by Jim O’Rourke, the Quincy Jones of America’s pop-avant-garde — is an open love letter to Superchunk’s DIY followers, a love that is at times critical and menacing but never distant or removed. Instead, in songs such as "1000 Pounds" and "Tiny Bombs" Superchunk has provided a stirring document, full of praise and self-doubt, distant longing and public confession, about what it means to be punk rock long after the thrill of living is gone.

The killer we-told-you-so-but-it’s-OK track here is "June Showers," whose nursery school guitar riff mimics the nursery rhyme offerings of major labels who do it all, as Mac intones, "because they care for you." But it is the sweetness of Mac’s chorus, confidently pleading, "I’m hoping for the coolest showers in June/a transfusion that might keep you from giving up/don’t give up," that gives the song and the album its soul. For what is punk rock but soul music turned upside down, irony and laughter filling in for "baby" and "Lord have mercy," while the true desire—for a new world, a new day—seeps in through the static in the amps.

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