Superchunk: Foolish

Superchunk
Foolish
(Merge)

The context: Emerging out of Chapel Hill, NC at the dawn of the '90s, Superchunk joined—and in some sense spearheaded—a growing movement of indie-rock bands united less by a style than by a spirit. The goal was to release records that looked and sounded homemade, drawing on influences beyond what the few alternative-rock radio stations and MTV late-night shows acknowledged. Led by music nerd Mac McCaughan, Superchunk lit up the scene with early singles like "Slack Motherfucker" and "Seed Toss," which combined the easy melodicism of New Zealand pop with the roaring energy of hardcore punk. Thanks to a blistering live show and well-built LPs like 1991's No Pocky For Kitty, by the middle of the decade, Superchunk was one the most respected bands in Amerindie.

The greatness: Foolish was recorded at the end of 1993 and released in early '94, in the thick of the grunge era, while bands like Soundgarden were dominating the rock charts with sludgy, quasi-mystical soul-baring. Superchunk offered what amounted to a direct reaction to the lumbering sounds on the radio at the time, starting with Foolish's opening track, "Like A Fool," a confessional processional that puts an elegantly wistful spin on the album's theme of romantic disillusionment. (Inspired, incidentally, by the breakup of McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance.) Later, Superchunk vents its punk side with force and grace, on ragers like "Water Wings" and "Without Blinking." But the album is more noteworthy for indie power-ballads like "Driveway To Driveway" and complex songs-of-irritation like "Why Do You Have To Put A Date On Everything," which set specific memories of love in turmoil to gloriously loud guitars and sweet hooks. Foolish is rarely cited as an influence on the emo movement, but had more young bands copied Superchunk's honest emotion, smart wordplay, and taut, energetic performance, the last decade of indie-punk might not have been so insufferable.

Defining song: "The First Part" emerges straight out of the waning notes of the album-opener, marrying a skipping beat to an insistent guitar, which harmonizes with McCaughan's nasal croon. The dance mirrors McCaughan's lyrics, all about the perils of clinging to the good times. ("One good minute could last me a whole year," he yelps, like a man who knows.) "The First Part" ends with a devastating instrumental coda which keeps building and building, like the tension in a broken relationship that neither side wants to end.