Homestead, 1991


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I've undergone a bit of a musical metamorphosis lately, ever since I acquired a record player. Discovering older rock music on vinyl has brought back memories of my father's sizable music collection, and with this a renewed interest in the music I grew up with.

While I was only 9 when the alternative boom was in full swing, I remember hearing songs on the radio and at friend's houses, music that was different but interesting. In tracking down a lot of these songs, I've come across lesser-known bands like Pavement and the Pixies as well as old favorites like the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots.

Sebadoh fits into the former category, a group that never achieved commercial success but proved to be influential on the music scene, helping establish alternative as a credible genre (the same year Nevermind came out) and restoring introspection to rock music, which, Springsteen aside, had been missing since the early 70s. At least, music that could be introspective and have balls at the same time.

The problem with Sebadoh is that, while they are talented musicians, III as a whole is not a great album. While lyrically it has some merits, sonically the disc is all over the map, straddling the line between underground lo-fi indie rock and punk. Granted, Sebadoh, Pavement and R.E.M. pretty much established lo-fi indie rock, and in 1991 this was revolutionary. But some 15 years later the thrill is gone, replaced on III with out-of-tune vocals, treble-heavy guitars, screaming for no reason and 22 songs that all blend into one another.

I can understand the appeal of music that has no commercial intentions, music where production is unimportant and songwriting is key. It's a rarity in 2006 and was a rarity in 1991, and that stark nature will take many by surprise. What I don't like is sitting through all of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 III four times and not understanding the fuss. I got bored halfway through the record and wanted to listen to something else, but I willfully pressed on, hoping I might catch something amazing.

There are highlights, to be sure, since this trio is talented. "The Freed Pig" -- which is thankfully somewhat loud -- is a screed against singer Low Barlow's former bandmate in Dinosaur Jr., and sarcastic words like "Now you will be free / With no sick people tugging on your sleeve / Your big head has that "more room to grow" / A glory I will never know" drive home the point. Perhaps revenge is sweet. The following "Sickles And Hammers" is a very catchy tune with a lot of potential; problem is, it's 50 seconds long. Had more of the record been like this, we might not be having this discussion.

But past that, the record is too wildly schizophrenic, a hit-or-miss affair that mostly misses. The guitars of "Total Peace" recall older Dylan, but there is really no hook, and "Violet Execution" is ruined by words like "Eternal rosebud zooming down / Red goat stands, water surrounds / Glued to set, I can't take it all in / Heather's amused; drillings begin." If I want lyrics I can't understand, I've got progressive rock.

Perhaps Sebadoh was progressive in a different way, but I don't see the appeal of 20 detuned songs with virtually no bass, barely-sung lyrics and no melodies. I listened to this record four times and I only remembered three songs -- out of 22, this is a piss-poor ratio. Only "The Freed Pig," the acid country "Black-Haired Girl" and "Spoiled" are really worth revisiting; the latter because of a stark acoustic guitar and some quiet keyboard atmosopherics, which accent the mumbled regretful lyrics of "Spoiled children soon to fall / Freedom is the lie we live / We will wait for tragedy / And scatter helpless to the fire the closer." It's the only moment on the disc that evokes any real emotion.

The closer "As The World Dies, The Eyes Of God Grow" perfectly exhibits the split on this album, with one line sung in the spoken detuned manner and the next screamed against one sustained power chord. The song is somewhat funny, a bit of a biographical tale, with lines like "Mother met a second man, by chance / She remembered from a hometown high school dance / The night they got to fighting, man's arms, they let me fall / My head hit the concrete floor, I didn't move at all / My mom hysterical, thinking I was dead." But what sounds like a stoned joke is taken too far when, for no reason, the song begins invoking the Klan and Nazis and then Barlow screams "Blood on the walls" over and over. The whole package is six minutes, and there are much better ways to spend time.

Which sums up this whole album. If you absolutely love lo-fi indie rock, pick up Pavement or early R.E.M., and if you want music with melody, bass, volume or something that will change your life, stay away from Sebadoh's III.

Rating: D+

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© 2006 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Homestead, and is used for informational purposes only.