For those not from the Midwest, a supper club is a small-town staple known for serving up delicious, affordable fried-fish and steak dinners with a side order of generously poured spirits. It’s precisely the kind of place haunted by young traditionalists like The Goodnight Loving, who’ve made a career out of applying emphatic youthfulness to well-worn rituals. Considering that the Milwaukee band quietly bashed out one of the strongest discographies in all of ’00s garage rock, the assured confidence of its fourth record, The Goodnight Loving Supper Club, shouldn’t come as a surprise. What is a surprise—and a delightful one at that—is that the album’s relative polish and sense of hard-won maturity haven’t come at the expense of the shaggy, basement-show bravado that has made The Goodnight Loving so fun and moving since its winning 2006 debut, Cemetery Trails.
“Doesn’t Shake Me” hurtles forward with the band’s characteristic wide-eyed abandon, like kids racing deliriously out the door on the last day of school. But the song’s power-pop glaze and sweet harmonies spotlight GNL’s effortless command of its bedrock influences—’50s rock ’n’ roll as filtered through a Replacements concert bootleg tape, with a chaser of punked-up honky-tonk—with unprecedented grace and focus. It’s a welcome evolution, since The Goodnight Loving (unlike many of its scruffy three-chord contemporaries) writes songs that actually deserve to be heard above the casually recorded din of furiously strummed guitars and fumbling rhythms.
While GNL has occasionally sacrificed good songs via nonexistent arrangements and blurry-eyed first takes on previous albums, Supper Club feels like it was contemplated over more than just several cases of beer. GNL has learned to craft albums, and the songs on Supper Club reward its sonic clarity, especially on the country-leaning numbers. The cowpunk stomp of “Ain’t It Weird” is like prime mid-period Beatles with Roger Miller lyrics, while “It’s A Long Way To A Bad Way” is a twangy road song with a spaghetti-Western guitar riff snaking through kicked-up dust clouds. GNL also makes sure to cover its jangly rock-pop bases on the heart-tugging “Bike + Stick” and the galloping “Sunnyside,” which, like so much of The Goodnight Loving Supper Club, manages to sound both reassuring and vital, like pulling up a stool and ordering up one more bourbon-heavy Old Fashioned before closing time.