I, as well as most of the faithful Treble writers, spent my summer happily mired in the ’90s. As a group, we gleefully entrenched ourselves in shoegaze, grunge, D.C. hardcore, hip-hop, Brit pop and post-rock, arguing our little snobby indie hearts out over what should be included. In particular, 1991 was a banner year for music. One look at our “Best Of” that year will reveal just how important it really was. Most everyone in the States were discovering grunge in Nirvana’s breakout major label album, Nevermind, and Pearl Jam’s proper debut, Ten. But post rock albums by Slint and Talk Talk also held court, while shoegaze bands recorded milestone albums in Loveless and the previous year’s Nowhere. But only one band would put all of those sounds together into one musclebound juggernaut of an album. Only one band would take those sounds, mix them with the sounds of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and Hüsker Dü, and then throw in a reference to cars in every track. That band was Swervedriver. That album was Raise.
Swervedriver’s roots began in an Oxford band called Shake Appeal, named after a track from Iggy & the Stooges’ Raw Power. After limited success, the band decided to split with some of the remaining members forming Swervedriver. Almost never was a band more aptly named. With the car references and a swirly rush of guitars on every track, how could they be named anything else? Guitarist Jimmy Hartridge explains in the reissue’s liner notes that 4-track EP’s were “all the rage in the early ’90s.” And so, three EP’s featuring the title tracks of “Son of Mustang Ford,” “Rave Down,” and “Sandblasted” were released thanks to a tape passed to Ride’s Mark Gardener, which was then passed to Alan McGee and Creation Records. Hartridge goes on to explain that back then, if you had four songs done, you just put them out as an EP, there wasn’t any saving up for a full-length release. But, a full-length treatment was finally given and the tracks surrounding the early singles were just as potent.
The dual guitars and vocals of Hartridge and Adam Franklin were hypnotic, assaulting and yet incredibly pop oriented. Walls of guitar noise, a wash of effects pedals, anchoring melodic bass lines and hyper-OCD drumming fill every track on the album, from the psychedelic swirls of “Sci-Flyer,” to the hard charging “Son of Mustang Ford” and the sunnier “Feel So Real.” Luckily, these U.S. reissues include bonus tracks, with Raise featuring the “Mustang Ford” b-side, “Kill the Superheroes,” a fan favorite and prominent example of the band’s complex sound, yet understandable appeal. There are times when “Superheroes” sounds like an MBV tidal wave, others when it resembles a Stooges spitfire, and still more when it sounds like it could have been for J. Robbins and Billy Corgan what Marty McFly was for Chuck Berry. If there is only one regret about these reissues, it is that they aren’t two disc affairs, featuring every b-side from every EP release.
I earlier mentioned the relative obscurity of Swervedriver. Truth be told, it also took My Bloody Valentine a few years to get the adulation they richly deserved. And honestly, many of the best bands take a while to rise to the top. It took R.E.M. five albums and a hit single in “The One I Love” to finally get out of the `college rock’ tag and get a major label deal. We can only wonder what time could have done for Swervedriver as they only ended up releasing four albums, two of which remain in relative obscurity thanks to label weirdness. Thankfully, Swervedriver seems to be finally getting its due. They played Coachella last year to great acclaim, and as you can see, have had their two most important albums reissued. So, I’m officially adding an amendment to our best of 1991 list. Sure, rather than take our list to ten like most traditional lists, we took ours to the Spinal Tap influenced eleven, but it still wasn’t enough. After all, if we’re really taking the mofo to eleven, we can’t really do that without the blistering intensity of Swervedriver.
Video: “Son of Mustang Ford”