While it isn’t entirely certain that Superchunk borrowed the name of its 10th album, I Hate Music, from The Replacements’ 1981 song “I Hate Music,” it’s a fairly safe bet. When Superchunk’s self-titled debut came out in 1990, it garnered comparisons to The Replacements, a band that was then in the process of disintegrating after toning down its famously ramshackle sound. “I hate music / It’s got too many notes,” Paul Westerberg raged in ’81; by ’90, he was more skilled, and thus playing a lot more notes, so Superchunk helped fill that raw, ragged power-pop void. Superchunk itself softened and sweetened its sound throughout the ’90s, although its 2010 comeback, Majesty Shredding, exhilaratingly captured the group’s early breathlessness while reconciling that with the bittersweet reminiscence that comes with encroaching middle age.
I Hate Music follows Majesty Shredding in more ways than one. Not only is it Superchunk’s first full-length in three years, it maintains the same inspired momentum—even when it sputters out here and there, it does so gracefully. From the power-balladry of opener “Overflows” to the ebbing melancholy of “What Can We Do,” the album is less concerned with proving a point—that Superchunk can still strip the bark off every pop-punk sapling that’s sprouted up around it—and more concerned with wit, wistfulness, and sprightly songcraft. Still, there’s nothing but wild-eyed hook worship to “FOH,” whose lyrics turn a routine concert soundcheck into the stuff of epic euphoria.
In spite of the album’s one fast song, the forgettably frantic “Staying Home,” I Hate Music bears an underlying weariness, too—but it’s mostly of the blissful variety. “Void” and “Trees Of Barcelona” weigh in on the fatigue of the road while sidestepping tour-song clichés in favor of warmth, and impressionistic threads of imagery. Even when set on simmer, the album rocks infectiously, and Mac McCaughan’s keening rasp has never sounded so tuneful, supple, and conversational. That directness gets chilling on the subdued closer, “What Can We Do,” in which McCaughan sings, “And honey, I’ve been thinking / Our little island might be sinking / Let’s build something new.”
There isn’t anything new on I Hate Music, but there’s no need for it. Even with bassist Laura Ballance recently removing herself from the touring lineup, McCaughan and company’s little island is floating along just fine, especially if “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” is any indication. The album’s high point, the song isn’t an homage to the reggae artist of its title as much as a tribute to cranking music on the stereo while rolling down the highway to the next show—a path that will take them later this year to the same stage as the reunited Replacements. If Superchunk hates music, the band’s got a funny way of showing it.