January 18, 2002

Dealing with the Hassle

Superdrag's In The Valley Of Dying Stars
Maybe this is a waste of time right now, as I can’t be counted on to write a purely objective review of this album simply because I love it so much, but it’s so much fun to listen to and I haven’t found a flaw that hampers anything about it. So, to wit:

Superdrag’s third album is a total revelation, a really great listen for all of us that like good, snappy, powerful rock and roll. Stereotypically a band appealing mostly to people in bands, Knoxville, Tennessee’s Superdrag built up a strong independent repertoire before scoring a radio hit in 1996 with “Sucked Out” from their major label debut “Regretfully Yours”. A follow-up, 1998’s “Head Trip In Every Key” failed to win the label’s support despite more consistent writing and a combination of tighter musicianship (shown on the excellent opener “I’m Expanding My Mind”) and extended freakouts ("She Is A Holy Grail"), and the band were dropped. However, like many other 90’s bands mangled by mainstream radio and dropped by big record companies, Superdrag is now making some of their best work independently and blah blah blah blah…..

OK, sorry- enough pre-review history (like you always see in these kinds of things; reviewers like to make you think they’ve done their homework and aren’t posers. I probably am, though). Their 2000 release on Arena Rock Recordings, “In The Valley Of Dying Stars”, simply rocks, Rocks, ROCKS! Everything sounds the way it should, every tune is sequenced perfectly, a short enough running time for vinyl audiophile nerds, etc etc etc. Frontman John Davis lays the record’s themes on the line right away in the first lines of “Keep It Close To Me”: “I want rock and roll but I don’t want to deal with the hassle; I know what I know but I don’t want to feel like an asshole!”- a to-the-point intro for an album that simply sounds like a band having fun at what they do best- admitting they "can't concentrate on melody waiting for some kind of tragedy".

Most of the CD stays at that steady tempo that makes you want to drive faster (it’s a great car album), but some of the best moments are when they slow down a bit and ride some mid-tempo grooves for a while. A few reviewers on Amazon.com have cited these repetetive endings as reasons that the album is dull and overrated, but well, their ears simply don’t work and they’re full of shit. “Warmth Of A Tomb” and the closer “In The Valley Of Dying Stars” round out each side of the album with stately semi-melancholy power, driven home just to the point of excess before the track fades out (or stops dead ringing on the title track). Another tune, the piano-driven waltzy “Unprepared” tips the stylistical hat to Elliott Smith, the recent master of that school.

The high points, however, remain the rockers. “True Believer” stands up to anything in the Strokes/Hives/White Stripes/Vines axis, and the album’s peak “Bright Pavilions” comfortably surfs on a curving power chord that sounds lifted from My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” album (no really, it does!) crossed with The Mermen. The tune grinds away into the distance with bubbling undercurrents of reverbed guitars building up quickly on a G to E-chord infinity that fades out leaving you wanting more. Taking the speedometer down from triple digits would be a bummer on any other album, but this one’s only half over at that point.

This album has very rapidly become one of my favorite CDs, so take this review with a little salt, but I have a feeling that those who love this album and this band will do so for a very long time.

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