CD Review of Industry Giants by Superdrag
Superdrag: Industry Giants
Recommended if you like
The Replacements, The Whigs, Nada Surf
Superdrag Sound Laboratories Records
Superdrag: Industry Giants

Reviewed by Carlos Ramirez

he record business has been brutal to Superdrag. And it all started out so promisingly, too: after the band released a buzzed-about debut EP in 1995, the A&R departments at several major labels got all hot and bothered, and a bidding war ensued. When the dust cleared, Elektra Records signed the young Knoxville, TN outfit. Their first album for the label, Regretfully Yours, was a critical and college radio hit. One of their singles, "Sucked Out," even got regular MTV airplay, but their next full-length, 1998’s Head Trip in Every Key, didn’t deliver the radio jams the suits in NYC and L.A. were banking on. You know how this story ends, right? After a couple of fantastic, well-received albums on an indie, the band members went their separate ways in 2003.

Superdrag singer-guitarist John Davis found Christianity and went on to record and release two respectable solo efforts that were partly informed by his newfound faith. In the meantime, the Drag’s discography kept on finding new audiences, and in 2007, reunion shows were announced as well as a new studio album. Looking back at their major label fiasco, it’s not that surprising that Superdrag have elected to self-release Industry Giants, their comeback album.

The 12-song collection gets off to an awkward start with the hook-deficient and over-repetitive "Slow to Anger." Luckily "Live and Breathe" swoops in and gets things pointed in the right direction. The softly strummed acoustic guitars and Davis’s honeyed vocal lines make this one the kind of track that wouldn’t sound out of place next to bands like Teenage Fanclub and Nada Surf on a mixtape. "I Only Want a Place I Can Stay" showcases the band’s penchant for jangly Fender guitars and loose rhythm arrangements. Don Coffey Jr. is the kind of drummer a songwriter would kill for – his playing style is economic, yet dynamic enough to spotlight the right moments, showing off his killer instinct.

Industry Giants marks the first time in the combo’s career that someone other than Davis has written or sung lead on a Superdrag song: bassist Tom Pappas shows up to the party with "Cheap Poltergeists" and "You’re Alive." Both cuts have more in common with the straightforward garage rock that Rocket from the Crypt favored than they do with power pop. Guitarist Brandon Fischer’s "Ready to Go" is led by a sunny vocal melody and chiming refrain, but like Pappas’s contributions, the song ultimately feels tacked on and doesn’t hold up next to Davis’ material.

Superdrag has always been the John Davis Show, and the time away hasn’t changed that. Songs like the aforementioned "Live and Breathe" and the hard-charging "Filthy and Afraid" are not only brimming with inescapable choruses, the vocals pop off the speakers with a youthful and infectious energy. The naysayers who expected Industry Giants to be bogged down by Davis’s religious awakening have been proven wrong. Outside of a few mid-tempo numbers, the album is filled with some of the band’s hardest stuff yet. "5 Minutes Ahead of the Chaos" and closing song "Deathblow to Your Pride" channel vintage Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, showing us that Superdrag’s heart still pines for the guitar bands of the mid-‘80s college-rock boom.

Though Industry Giants is flawed (they should exclusively stick to the Davis compositions next time), its best songs more than make up for its deficiencies. Now let’s hope they don’t take another six years to follow it up.

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