Eleven albums in and Superchunk never sounded better.
Despite what you may have heard, fun rock albums still exist. You know, the album that isn’t mired in a desperate rebrand, vague concept, or desperately trying to avoid the “Dad Rock” stigma, isn’t just theoretical.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Superchunk’s stellar What a Time to Be Alive.
Sonically, the album continues to refine their sound from their early ‘90s “classic” era. Philosophically, “Alive” follows their recent renaissance starting with 2010’s Majesty Shredding and the 2013 follow up I Hate Music, where the main tenet to their album is fast, upbeat, and true to self. That doesn’t mean the lyrics are glib or that the music is filler. The album’s title track serves best as their calling card. Mac McCaughan has more depth to his lyrics than ever. Effervescent, yes, but also, confident, mature, and still scrappy. It’s wonderful to hear the guy who wrote “slack m**********r” also writing about choosing to be happy. The album is as adult in thought and as bright and aggressive in sound.
There is a refinement and craftsmanship while maintaining a visceral, raw edge. It’s easy to visualize McCaughan boundlessly pogoing on stage while ripping a guitar solo with rhythm guitarist Jim Wilbur careening across the stage like a tree in free fall. “I Got Cut” could’ve been on their almost-30-year-old debut but the chorus hooks and riffs are sharper. That sense of fun and aggression lends “Alive” multiple listens. “Lost My Brain” is riffy, punky and breaks up the pace even though better versions would be “Reagan Youth” and “Cloud of Hate.” “Erasure” and “Break the Glass” have a call and response quality perfect for call and responses for their live show.
Credit should also be given to the band for continuing to make music on their own terms, even though the length between Superchunk albums is five years (compared to 1-2 years in their first run). The music sounds fresh and inspired. More importantly, they’re staying true to their sound. U2, Arcade Fire, and Foo Fighters (which pains me to write this) are the most recent “biggest” bands who have changed their sound to maintain relevancy. Sadly, that didn’t happen while alienating their fan base.
Superchunk will never go platinum, but they’ll never serve you garbage while pretending it’s fresh.
“What a Time to Be Alive” lives up to its name.