Sharps & flats

On "Come Pick Me Up" the once-great power-pop of Superchunk rots with its own complacency.


Dave McCoy
August 19, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Some anniversary parties feel like funerals. There you are, supposedly commemorating the strength and durability of a relationship, but everyone in the room knows that the guests of honor are really a bored couple that didn't have the guts or energy to abandon their listless union years ago. Couples forget their initial attractions every once in a while, and that can make celebrating comfort and inertia really depressing.

On "Come Pick Me Up," the once rambunctious and influential Superchunk -- who celebrated a 10-year anniversary last month -- are a lot like a lifeless old couple (and a lot like cousins Sebadoh and Guided By Voices). They're resting on their past instead of making a meaningful statement in the present. As Woody Allen said to Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall," "A relationship is like a shark: It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark." Superchunk began slowing down on their previous release, "Indoor Living," a muddled, lackadaisical stab at pure pop. And their latest? Well, put simply, the band's seventh full-length release is a dead shark. It super sucks.

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In their prime, Superchunk's post-hardcore power-pop was never terribly original or revolutionary. That didn't matter. The Chapel Hill, N.C., foursome made up for their shortcomings with intense energy, whiplash dynamics, catchy choruses, brash melodies and singer Mac McCaughan's high, pinched vocals screaming over a barrage of buzzing guitars. On albums like "No Pocky For Kitty" (1991) or "Foolish" (1994), you can hear the ambition and jarring tenacity in every cut. They packed more ideas, hooks and stinging lyrics into a three-minute rawker than many indie wannabes generated on entire LPs.

What makes "Come Pick Me Up" so deflating is how completely weary and unsure the band sounds. Like many tapped-out rockers, Superchunk's solution for their lack of creativity is piling more instruments atop their signature sound. "Pink Clouds" features off-key, noodling horn riffs, while odd string arrangements pepper many other cuts. These touches aren't a band exploring new ground as much as uninspired artists blatantly grasping for gimmicks to shake things up. Even worse, on mid-tempo bores like "Smarter Hearts" and "Tiny Bombs," McCaughan abandons his wounded-little-boy falsetto and embarrassingly attempts to sing. Neither liberating nor adventurous, this change merely makes his fragile voice more grating than usual.

"Hello hawk/Come pick me up," the singer pleads on the album's first single, "Hello Hawk." Unfortunately, McCaughan chose the wrong species for his dopey imagery. A vulture seems more appropriate, because anniversaries and celebrations aside, the once vibrant and relevant Superchunk is rotting.


Dave McCoy

Dave McCoy is a music and film writer in Seattle.

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