Last Call For Vitriol
By: Eric Greenwood
I saw Superdrag on Conan O'Brien the other night, and I couldn't believe how much they rocked. It was sweet relief witnessing such a raucous performance after having to listen to Al Franken wax unfunny with a bored Conan about the Bush administration's Iraq quandary. I've been vaguely aware of Superdrag since that "Sucked Out" single came out way back in 1996, but I'd never given them the time of day, mainly because I'd always thought that single was cloying and annoying. I'd consequently written them off as flash in the pan buzz bin drones. However, I'm more than willing now to wipe the slate clean; that performance earned as much.
This may sound trite, but Superdrag plays rock music. I point this out because not many bands play actual rock music anymore. The mainstream and underground music scenes are clogged up with so many complicated sub-genres and micro-genres and crossbreeds with meaningless names that the uninformed music fan wouldn't even know where to begin. Superdrag takes a much simpler approach than its peers do, opting for traditional rock licks over gimmicks rife with trends and pretension. The verse/chorus/verse formula is fully intact, of course, but a few outdated modes of expression make a resurgence, such as the guitar solo and the chunky 70's rock riff a la AC/DC.
"Baby Goes To Eleven" is such a pitch perfect pop song that it's easy to overlook the guilelessly saccharine lyrics: "she's riding beside me/her bright lights will hide me/she's one with the heavens/baby goes to eleven." Having Bob Pollard of Guided By Voices chime in on the backing harmonies doesn't hurt either. The way John Davis places his pristine cadence over the chords is right on the money and, once the drums kick in, the song transforms into a driving, power-pop rocker that's at once familiar and memorable. The true rock reveals its dirty head by the second song, "I Can't Wait." There's definitely some ZZ Top and Cheap Trick lurking in the back of the band's mind as it pummels through the dueling power chords.
"The Staggering Genius" is the song the band tore through on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, and it delivers just as much punch in recorded form. It's got that raw, rocking energy found on early Replacements records with even a hint of Husker Du. The chunky, chugging verse is instantly hummable, as it quickly lurches into an even stickier pre-chorus before the opening riff rebounds and blasts the song into your permanent memory. The arrangement is not unlike Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Sprit", though the dynamic is less extreme. Superdrag rocks out at full throttle as Davis wails "tell everyone you're happy and slip into oblivion." "So Insincere" is an abrupt comedown after such an intense rocker, but it boasts a Foo Fighters-style chorus, take it or leave it.
I must admit I tend to get lost through the middle of the record, as my mind wanders and several tracks slip by unnoticed, due to their middling mediocrity. "Extra-Sensory" dips into Soul Asylum territory with its sappy melody and jangly, rootsy guitars. "Feeling Like I Do" makes a half-assed attempt to rock, but there's no build-up or release, just a driving repetition of the same three parts, though the bended guitar lines are duly noted. The woe-is-me party takes a nose-dive on "Way Down Here Without You." The back-up vocals are unintentionally funny, as they play some kind of retro call and response game. Fast forward to "Safe & Warm." Ugh. Another ballad. What happened to the rock? Ahh, "Remain Yer Strange" kicks it back into gear. More like this one, please.
Hmm, less than half of the record actually sports the rock I salute it for, but when it does Superdrag shines like a blast from the past but without the feeling that it's a calculated throwback to anything in particular. Last Call For Vitriol is a more aggressive title than the record itself is, but Superdrag proves its bag of tricks is not about to run out. I'll just have to program my stereo to keep the rockers coming.