POWER POP buzz band Superdrag has risen from the ashes andcommemorated their glorious reunion with a brand new studio effort, Industry Giants. And the news only gets better: the band resumes with the original line-up of Don Coffey Jr. (drums), Tom Pappas (bass), Brandon Fisher (guitar), and John Davis (everything else). And if you have a clear recollection of 1998, then you will remember that this is the same quartet that turned in the masterpiece Head Trip in Every Key.
A lot of rock history has transpired since then, including two more proper albums and a smattering of b-side and demo compilations, the exodus of Pappas and Fisher, the inclusion of Mic Harrison and Sam Powers, and perhaps most notably, the spiritual conversion of bandleader John Davis. Superdrag fulfilled their touring obligations in support of Last Call for Vitriol (which featured Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices), a turbulent album recorded in the middle of John’s personal turmoil and conversion. And then Davis announced that it was time for the band to officially hang it up, noting that his newfound Christianity wasn’t well-suited for Superdrag.
Davis then crafted two spiritually alert solo albums, The Beatles/Beach Boys-inspired John Davis, and the Foo Fighters-informed Arigato! in 2005 and 2007 respectively, and also recorded an EP with a little known super-group formed by Matt Slocum (Sixpence None the Richer) and Sam Ashworth called Astronaut Pushers.
But all of that is simply trivia, a musical rabbit trail that leads us to Superdrag’s reunion. After almost a decade apart, the band best known for their 90’s MTV hit “Sucked Out” (from Regretfully Yours) decided to go for another round. A dangerous decision, as most band reunions are ill-suited to creating relevant art. But not only is the band in danger of being a wrinkled parody of itself, the fans usually hope for the impossible—an epic addendum to an already star-studded career.
And this why everyone should go into Industry Giants with a clear head and an open mind. To state it bluntly, it’s no Head Trip in Every Key. In fact, it’s like nothing the band has recorded previous, yet it’s also mysteriously familiar. And that will be a disappointment to some, no doubt. Industry Giants is its own monster, complete with powerful, energizing hooks and occasional experiments gone awry. This album is really the sound of a great band finding their feet again, and only disappointing because it doesn’t break new ground the way their older albums consistently did.
Regretfully Yours captured the smug hipster shoegaze phenomenon and merged it with nods to 60’s pop; Head Trip was a psychedelic masterpiece in performance and production; In The Valley of Dying Stars was elegant rock cranked to 11; Last Call was a diverse collision with southern rock and Brit Invasion charm. Industry Giants sounds like one giant mix of every previous Superdrag record, with a touch of post-punk progression. Yet it is likely the most singular and focused project Davis has ever released.
There is no doubt in my mind that John Davis is one of the best living songwriters, drawing richly from The Beatles without ever sounding too derivative (think back to stuff like “I’m Expanding My Mind” and “Doctors Are Dead”). But Industry Giants relies on aggressive intensity more than melodic arrangements, and you’re left wanting more of what made you a fan to begin with: hypnotic melody and huge, gorgeous guitar lines. “Live And Breathe” is thankfully classic Drag, in that it pushes all the right buttons—melody, guitars, and pace, and “Everything’ll Be Made Right” captures the band diverging into middle-eastern rock stylings, similar to Head Trip, which is very good. And the reggae breakdown in the middle of war-themed “Aspartame” might be the coolest moment on this record, and showcases Davis’s huge grasp on songwriting.
So it’s not that Industry Giants is sub-par, but the pounding opener “Slow To Anger” places a premium on repetition that I don’t quite swallow. (The complete song is, however, greater than the sum of its parts.) “5 Minutes Ahead of The Chaos” is little more that a post-punk song sketch, and also lacks the endearing magic that Superdrag is expected to possess. The bottom line is that this Superdrag album is solid, but it’s also the first album that’s not classic. Think of it as the superior, big brother to Arigato! and you’d have a good idea as to what you’re in for. Here’s hoping for many more years out of the Drag, and that they continue to unlock their vaults of older unreleased material.
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