Returning after a 10 year hiatus, Superchunk’s 2010 album Majesty Shredding proved a welcome return, packed with power-punk-pop gems. Three years later, I Hate Music did the same, whilst veering more towards their past abrasiveness, and coloured with a darker vibe for an arguably better overall outcome.
Fuelled by dismay at the dismal reality of a Trump presidency, the band’s 11th studio album What A Time To Be Alive dives into the “dire and depressing” times the post-election USA is being dragged through. With Beau Sorensen returning for engineering duties, Superchunk largely continue in the same musical vein as before, albeit with this new focus, and with a plethora of guest vocalists in tow.
I Got Cut was the first sniff of the new album, sounding at times like a breakneck version of a 1960s rock ‘n’ roll hit. The same exuberance also drives Dead Photographers, where blistering guitars and manic drumming combine for a pulverising piledriver of a song. The racing Reagan Youth harks back to the Ronald Reagan era to offer a comparison to modern day events.
The title track opens the album, blessed with typical Superchunk edgy energy once more. It packs much into its three and a half minutes, though in a way Guided By Voices manage in much less time, including a scrawling guitar solo. Erasure – not an ode to Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, but a nod to consequences brought about through fear and hatred – impresses, as does the irresistibly fun Break The Glass, where intermittent breaks in the mayhem appear courtesy of a more minimalist chorus.
Closer Black Thread is a much slower effort – here sits the most radio friendly track of the lot, perhaps – where a classic structure of verse, bridge, chorus and solo stands out. The contrastingly manic Cloud Of Hate races along at electric pace, its speed almost unsettling. Chaos also adorns the short, sharp vitriol of Lost My Brain, ridiculing Trump supporters in the process; the more tethered Bad Choices also complains of the same subject matter.
Whilst being understandable in light of recent events, the incessant rant at US turmoil could prove difficult to consume for non-Americans. That said, there are plenty of power-punk melodies to ensure What A Time To Be Alive isn’t condemned to an early shelf life, even if to put it amongst their best work would be a stretch too far.