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What's new in iJamming!...
Tue, Oct 23, 2001
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN: "Flowers is Echo & The Bunnymen's finest hour since Ocean Rain."
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
NEW CHAPTER now online
From the Jamming! Archives:
U2 interviewed in 1984.
"It's not U2 that's creating this great art. . .There's something that works through us to create in this way."
My immediate reaction to September 11
PART 2: Messages from friends & family overseas
PART 3: Observations & quotes from others.
PART 5: COPING - 2 weeks later
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured albums
(Hub, Slumber Party, DJ Harry, Spearhead, The Who tribute
Albums that sound different since September 11
(Charlatans UK, Arabian Travels, Cafe del Mar, Sugarcult)
iJamming! interview:
Jesse Hartman, aka LAPTOP
"Every New York band knows the meaning of failure"
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
The Return of Shoegazing:
DOVES take New York by swarm
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
THE iJAMMING! Book Review:
SNIFFIN' GLUE: The Essential Punk Accessory
From the JAMMING! archives: PAUL WELLER ON POP
From the JAMMING! archives: ALTERNATIVE TV
interviewed in 1978
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
Featured Artist Web Site:
From the JAMMING! archives: The Story That Spawned Creation
The full iJamming! Contents

"I love rock'n'roll but I don't want to deal with the hassle," sings Superdrag's John Davis on 'Keep it Close To Me,' which opens his group's third album In The Valley of Dying Stars - and also commenced the band's set at the Bowery Ballroom last Thursday night (Oct 26). "I know what I know but I don't want to feel like an asshole," he continues and if you think he's sounding a little battle-weary, well, you're right.

Five years ago Superdrag was a buzz band. Formed out of Knoxville, Tennessee, when Davis was just a teenager, the four-piece released a couple of lively 7" singles, inked a big deal with Elektra, scored a minor hit with the power-pop anthem 'Sucked Out,' did okay with the debut album Regretfully Yours and should, by all rights, have survived the post-grunge fall-out on the basis that they're much more a pop band than a rock group. But as that opening line from the new album indicates: a) they didn't survive the fall-out, and b) they do consider themselves a rock group. Their sophomore album Head Trip In Every Key sneaked out the back door (i.e. most of us didn't hear about it), the bass player left, the group demoed a third album, Elektra couldn't hear the hit, the group begged out of their contract, was eventually granted its wish and has now returned to one of their original indie labels - the delightfuly-titled Arena Rock Recording Company. Superdrag's mid '90s rise may not have been as big as some acts; their late '90s fall has not proven as calamitous as others. But either way, they're back where they started.

Which, fortunately, means making great records. In The Valley of Dying Stars is quite possibly the finest power-pop album of the year. Certainly its first five cuts rival major league players like Green Day and The Offspring for simplistic yet fresh-sounding melodies, emotive lyrical one-liners, a distinctive vocal that soars above the requisite degree of volume, and that all-important occasional subtlety. (If you don't believe me, go to their web-site and hear part of the first single, Lighting The Way.) Admittedly, the quality of sound is ultimately too thin to hold up on rock radio, but I'm surprised just how many times I've been able to play this album - even semi-ballads like 'The Warmth of A Tomb' and the vaguely psychedelic 'Unprepared' with its 6/8 time signature - without tiring of it.

At the Bowery Ballroom, the band appeared as a trio (second guitarist Brandon Fisher has decided not to quit his day job and his 20-year old replacement Willie T had a scheduling conflict with his 'other' group; such are the struggles that independent bands find themselves up against), and seemed every bit as strong for it. While their hair is growing out and their once sharp-dressed look has given way to identikit black t shirts, this is a band with its roots as much in mod and punk - the Beatles, the Who, the Jam, the Clash - as anything to do with hard rock and grunge. Pete Towshend's influence is especially apparent in Jon Davis' power chords and minimalist solos (one of which, from an earlier album, simply runs up a major scale eight-times over), and in bassist Sam Powers' relentless windmills. The aptly named Powers, a new recruit who plays and looks like he was born into the band, also has Bruce Foxton's old leaps down pat, while drummer Don Coffey Jr has a drum technique straight out of all my favorite 1978 new wave anthems. Coffey should not be confused with Supergrass drummer Dan Goffey; the Superdrag song 'Goin' Out' should not be confused with the Supergrass single of the same name. But given these coincidences and the two groups' similar influences and line-ups, it seems eerily appropriate that Superdrag and Supergrass sit next to each other in my CD collection. It's a little less fitting that it's only the British power trio currently opening for Pearl Jam across America.

In the Valley of Dying Stars In The Valley of Dying Stars is quite possibly the finest power-pop album of the year. Certainly its first five cuts rival major league players like Green Day and The Offspring for simplistic yet fresh-sounding melodies, emotive lyrical one-liners, a distinctive vocal that soars above the requisite degree of volume, and that all-important occasional subtlety.

But then the world isn't fair. Truth is, traditional drums-guitar-bass three-minutes long sing-your-heart-out and deliver-that-chorus-like-it-hurts rock music is currently dead as the Flying Dodo on the shirt I wore to the Bowery. It's just that someone forgot to tell Superdrag. "Kids don't want to go and look at some nerd with a rack of samplers," said Davis in a recent fanzine interview. "They want to go see some guys jumping up and down and drinking beer and playing rock songs." Judging by the size of their crowd at the Bowery - a mere 2-300 in a hall that had three times as many when I saw that nerd BT there a few months back with his rack of samplers - the "kids" certainly had something better to do on Thursday night than watch these guys jump up and down and play rock songs. (The set was too frantic to allow time for beer.) Admittedly, the final World Series game was providing staunch New York compeititon, but if Superdrag was popular enough to have sold the tickets in advance, the "kids" would have been shown up to get their money's worth anyway. Superdrag has kept a following, that much is obvious, but adding to it is going to be hard work.

Superdrag lives in a mirrored cage of its own creation in which it's the people embracing music that dares to feature different instruments and textures and performance values that are the heretics, not themselves for persisting with a style that has stayed much the same for 35 years. At the same time, this is one act that wouldn't likely improve from changing anything it does. Superdrag has its genre nailed, and only seems to be getting better with each release. Without the pressure to deliver the "hit", they've recorded half-a-dozen potential singles on the new album. And if they don't have major label promotion to make the most of that, well, part of their complaint with Elektra was that they didn't have it on their second album either. In the meantime, they're on a record company that makes up in credibility for what it may lack in muscle, they're climbing whatever charts they can legitimately expect to be considered for (addendum: the album went top 10 at at CMJ in the new year), and if they occasionally have to play second fiddle to the Yankees and the Mets in New York and allow their new guitarist loyalty to his old band, they don't let it detract from their performance.

Davis talks of how Superdrag will "just keep the records coming and keep the tours coming until things come back around, because they invariably do." It's a blind vision, but it's exactly the kind of blind vision you need when your back's up against the wall. Personally I hope he's right - not because I agree with Superdrag's painfully reactionary assertion at the front of its web site that "Rock's not's only sleeping," - but because songwriters like Davis and albums like 'In The Valley of Dying Stars' are simply too good to exist in a vacuum.


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