In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about bands we thought should have been bigger than they were.
In many ways, Flop had the stereotypical early ’90s Seattle band experience. It wrote catchy songs with distorted guitars, was signed to a major label during the grunge feeding frenzy, released an album to little attention, got treated like crap and then dropped by its label, returned to its indie roots, and broke up shortly thereafter. It’s an unfortunate and common story.
But in other ways Flop had more in common with neighbors Mudhoney than it did with many of the groups who jumped to the majors, then promptly bent over backward trying to become the next Pearl Jam or Nirvana. Like Mudhoney, Flop often seemed like it was willfully going out of its way to avoid success. The group’s one and only major label release, Whenever You’re Ready, featured atrocious bubblegum cover art suggesting that whatever music lurked within was equally juvenile and disposable. And the video for its debut single, “Regrets,” seemed maximally designed to repel anyone unfortunate enough to stumble across it. Its primary aesthetic is rotting fruit and vegetables in time-lapse, intercut with shots of the band being lit in a way that made them look like they were suffering from scurvy. They didn’t make it easy to like them.
That’s what made it all the more surprising to discover the incredible music hidden beneath the get-away-from-us facade. Whenever You’re Ready is a massively good record, a slice of idiosyncratic power pop that paired soaring, Beach Boy harmonies and fuzzy guitars. In some ways, Flop was the inverted version of The Posies, another band that leavened its pristine harmonies with distorted guitars. But where The Posies sounded pure and elegant, Flop was messy and ragged. The group was the sneering, overstimulated little brother of ’90s power pop, with Rusty Willoughby’s nasal, sarcastic voice delivering literate and complex vocals with élan. The record was a perfect storm of addictive rock, and seemed well-timed for commercial success in that era. I remember thinking—much as I did when I first heard the Goo Goo Dolls’ Hold Me Up—“Man, these guys are going to be fucking huge.”
Sadly, it was not to be. For reasons that, looking back on it now, still seem primarily aesthetic, Flop never really got much of a shake. To stand out, as always, you needed more than great songs, and Flop was apparently far too off-putting to be embraced on a mainstream level. Still, I’ve never quite stopped thinking that the group was due for rediscovery and massive success; even after Flop broke up, I kept thinking it was just a matter of time until it claimed a proper place in the pantheon of great bands. The songs are just too damn good to let them be merely a footnote—Flop is the perfect band for smart-ass teenagers who are too sharp for their own good and too convinced the world wouldn’t like them anyway, so why bother? “Regrets” offers the reason why: a mid-tempo anthem that sounds like the goddamn soundtrack to 1993. Pealing guitars, jagged melodies, and lines like “I haven’t got no friends / Shit is a better companion” make you wonder why this didn’t join “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me” as the sing-along refrain for a tidal wave of disaffected goofs.