The Sebadoh (Sub Pop)
by Nik Rainey
Let it never be said that indie bands – or, in the case of Sebadoh, a band that’s half semi-major indie (Sub Pop) and half semi-indie major (Sire) (and all of that is contingent upon the Ripple Bottling Company not buying out the entire recording industry by the time this review sees print) – don’t count on specious marketing hooks to keep customers stultified into believing their stalwart heroes are getting themselves totally rewired with every new release.
After a number of uneven-to-totally schizo releases that bounced daffily from pop genius to raving self-indulgence, the Sebs seemed to have prozac’d themselves semi-straight with Bakesale and Harmacy, two albums that traded in their manic highs and more manic lows for a coolish consistency, one sure to serve them well and ease the thumbstrain and the “skip” buttons of the owners of CD remotes the world over. But no, nothing’s more dangerous than a band without flux, so the word hadda go out that this almost-eponymous album would be the work of a new, harder-rocking Sebadoh. If you’re having trouble imagining Lou Barlow peeling off fingerboard-splintering solos and thrusting his cuke-augmented defiance at the hoi polloi, well, you’re not alone. Something’s a tiny bit fishy in the pre-release babble and it fries up just like red herring.
In other words, fear not, sensitive males and the females who break up with them, Barlow’s still cranking out the most sincere nice-guy rock in the land (still almost 100% irony-free and all the better for you because of it) and his foil Jason Loewenstein is still playing the Roger Miller to his Clint Conley with his knottier, more raucous compositions. Though, strangely enough, Jason’s become more Lou-serish since last we saw him, to the point that ditties like “Thrive” and “So Long” could actually be mistaken for the work of the bespectacled other, a band first. The consistency is thus further refined, yet it still raves up and feels down in about the same relative positions as before.
And yet change has found its way into the Sebadon camp, what with Louie packing up and turning tail from Boston to Northern California (a change that, local bias aside, may not be entirely beneficient – most of his newfound psychedelic guitar flourishes are fine, but some of the songs seem a mite padded, and the fake fade-out in “Flame” is the kind of acidic filler we don’t cotton to on this coast, mister), and drummer Bob Fay getting the golden handshake and the steel-tipped boot to be replaced by Russ Pollard, a guy who ain’t quite Bonham skins-wise but still gives the ‘doh a backbeat with a little more back than is common for indie bands (check out the glorious thwap that gives “Bird in the Hand” its momentum or the “Anthrax”-ripped tattoo underscoring the fab “Nick of Time”), not to mention authoring the album’s arguable highlight, the mid-tempo plaint “Break Free.” But for all that, this is not the new suit of lights as advertised – The Sebadoh remains the same, and that’s just fine by me.
(2514 Fourth Ave Seattle WA 98121)