What A Time To Be Alive
CD / LP / DL
Mac McCaughan may have favoured a Trump-free America over reactionary music, but on the polemic punk of Superchunk’s eleventh record he’s found great art in great anger. Sam Lambeth reviews.
It could be easy for Superchunk to rest on their laurels. Not only has their rapid brand of alternative rock given them a laudable legacy, frontman Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance founded the seminal indie imprint Merge Records. However, the twenty-first century has given Superchunk fresh impetus and plenty to write about – if 2013’s I Hate Music was an elegiac reflection on death and ageing, the ironically-titled What A Time To Be Alive is a raging riposte to the America they live in.
The recent blight of political misdemeanours has been ripe for commentary, not least the election of Donald Trump. While a host of bands have aimed their ammo at the orange-haired hellion, Superchunk’s eleventh long-player goes straight for the jugular. “All your bad choices are gonna cause suffering,” spits singer Mac McCaughan on the lingering Bad Choices, before adding “I can never forgive you for them.” For a band that will next year celebrate their thirtieth anniversary, such rambunctiousness is refreshing.
If I Hate Music showed Superchunk’s statelier side, What A Time To Be Alive is considerably more aggressive. Lost My Brain is a frenzied slice of thumping drums and breakneck riffs, while the pummelling Cloud of Hate has the cut and thrust of seminal ‘80s bands Husker Du and The Replacements. Standout track Reagan Youth has the brisk sensibilities of classic Superchunk, built on charging guitars, McCaughan’s frustrated yelp and Jon Wurster’s blistering drums.
When they slow things down, the results are just as successful. Dead Photographers is built around a nimble guitar crunch as McCaughan laments “all this beauty in the way”, while closer Black Thread betrays its bleak title with a song bursting with sun-kissed melodies and soaring solos.
“I didn’t want to label this a political record, as people will assume we’re offering solutions,” commented McCaughan recently. On the evidence of What A Time To Be Alive, though, he’s already given one – great music.
Sam Lambeth is a journalist, writer and musician, born in the West Midlands but currently living in London. He performs in his own band, Quinn. He is on Twitter, and more of his work can be found on his archive.