For listeners who might still be reeling from the (pleasant) surprise that constituted Superchunk’s most recent studio release, Wild Loneliness—a record unique in the band’s repertoire for its moderation of their quintessential ‘90s fuzz-punk tones in favor of a softer sound built on the backs of a glittering string section and acoustic guitars—then the best advice I can give for their new record, Misfits and Mistakes, is to buckle up and prepare for that whiplash feeling to hit you all over again. This compilation, whose contents summarize the past 16 years of the band’s history since their return from hiatus, scorns the very idea of a pause for breath as it drags us straight back into the fold, with thunderous drums, blistering, kinetic riffs, and vim and vigor in no short supply.
As a tour through the sounds that remind us why Superchunk are one of the most important rock acts of the past 30 years, the album functions so well that it almost feels like showing off. Tunes like the irresistibly bouncy “February Punk,” or the fiery, uplifting “Our Work Is Done,” (featuring guest vocals from Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham) are an ideal means of showcasing all the components that make the indie stalwarts one of the best in the game; perfect pop melodies—sharp, dynamic, and made all the more powerful by the yearning sincerity of Mac McCaughan’s vocals—are elevated to a level of almost unbearably emotional intensity by the firm, uncompromising clatter of Jon Wurster’s drumming and the exuberant, electric roar of the band’s guitars.
Alongside their original releases, a handful of covers—about one-fifth of the album as a whole—also make an appearance. Many of these are retoolings of old-school punk tunes that speak to the impetus behind the more reckless, explosive elements of the band’s sound—songs by iconic rockers such as Misfits, the Ramones, and Circle Jerks all get a look-in—but there’s plenty to complement Superchunk’s poppier inclinations, too, not least with a grittier, unvarnished, but no less urgent version of “Say My Name,” originally by Destiny’s Child. The artsier, avant-garde side of punk (insofar as punk can be said to have an avant-garde side) is represented in covers of songs by Patti Smith and the Minutemen, and the genre’s harsher side is also present, with covers from hardcore acts such as SSD and Corrosion of Conformity. The album’s crowning achievement, so far as covers go, though, is Superchunk’s sublime take on The Cure’s “In-Between Days,” which reimagines the ‘80s post-punk hit as a fuzzy ‘90s grunge track, bathed in a sweet, shoegazey angst that goes some way to answering the question of what the song might have sounded like if it had originally been written by Billy Corgan.
But some of the greatest gems on the album are the band’s reworkings not of other people’s songs, but their own. The acoustic version of “Digging For Something,” for example, has all the delightful warmth and intimacy of a campfire singalong. Meanwhile, “What a Time to Be Alive”’s acoustic makeover takes a slower pace than the original, and the political message—easier to grasp once the song is stripped of its power-pop vivacity—is forefronted, lending it the declarative frankness of a ‘60s-style protest track.
These acoustic songs—as well as the album’s two new tracks, “Everything Hurts” and “Making a Break,” which both lie on the mellower side of Superchunk’s output—help to make the album feel rounded and diverse, and remind us that, as good as the band are at full-throttle bursts of hyper-manic zeal, this alone doesn’t quite manage to account for what makes them feel so powerful. Rather, what Misfits and Mistakes shows is that at the heart of most every Superchunk song, there lies a vibrant, poetic passion that will always find a way to manifest, whether loudly or quietly, plugged in or otherwise.
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