Out & About

Who in the hell sucked out the feeling? Four and a half years ago, Knoxville power-poppers Superdrag had a hit single on the radio and a multi-album deal with Elektra to show Mom and Dad. Now it's 2001 and about six people (the band and, I suspect, Mom and Dad) have heard the band's new album, the bitterly titled In the Valley of Dying Stars. So what happened? The band lose it? Drugs take over? Women? Cars? Little kids? Nah, more boring: The tide just went out, taking the wind (or at least the fans) right out of Tennessee's finest and stranding them in the cult-favorite hinterland.Do they deserve it? Not really. Valley's a crunchy little number, lacking anything as immediate as "Sucked Out," that hit single on the radio, or as puffed-up as the stuff on Head Trip in Every Key, the band's second record--the one Elektra issued strictly as an ultimatum. But it smacks of a wooden resolve, a conscious repudiation of all things hit or fluff or, well, popular. Which I kind of admire: What's more punk than sticking it to the biz with a brace of well-written pop songs? And then selling it on the Internet and at shows? Beat Happening did it once and built an empire around a seven-inch. Problem is, I've heard through the grapevine (OK, this one guy) that the band (or at least singer John Davis) is still grasping, totally un-Calvin Johnson-like, at what "Sucked Out" suggested; noting the band's inclusion on the Dude, Where's My Car? soundtrack, I'm inclined to believe them (OK, him).

Which just isn't as cool as not caring. That's an unfair (and, admittedly, absolutely extra-topical) criticism, but it's one that's hard to avoid in the face of Davis' po'-is-me whining. Aimee Mann made me laugh and smile and cry with her structurally similar moaning last year, but I buy hers in a way I don't Superdrag's. Maybe she's simply a better storyteller or a better melodist or just better looking (OK, she's definitely better looking), but her songs on the Magnolia soundtrack resonate in a way Davis' new ones don't. I think that's because Mann knew the business sucked and acted like it, where Davis is still trying to feed the hand that keeps biting him. I mean, Dude, Where's My Car??

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Mikael Wood