Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Superchunk [Matador, 1990] Choice Cuts
  • Foolish [Merge, 1994] Neither
  • Majesty Shredding [Merge, 2010] A-
  • I Hate Music [Merge, 2013] A-
  • What a Time to Be Alive [Merge, 2018] A
  • Wild Loneliness [Merge, 2022] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Superchunk [Matador, 1990]
"Slack Motherfucker"; "Sick to Move" Choice Cuts

Foolish [Merge, 1994] Neither

Majesty Shredding [Merge, 2010]
Don't believe old fans with their collective pre-midlife crisis. Believe a codger who has ever thought them an honorable band whose sole great record was damn near their first, the satirically candid "Slack Motherfucker." Here, 20 years after he started trying if trying is what that was, Mac McCaughan finally assembles an album that captures what could be glimpsed in that single and the only live show I ever saw them give (Lollapalooza '95). Eschewing both the lo-fi murk that obscured vocal yowl and guitar roar alike on the early albums and the fruity pop voice he affected as the centuries did their thing, McCaughan and cohort deliver a bunch of loud guitar songs--not anthems, songs--whose unkempt tailoring and melodic uplift are worthy of betters from Nirvana to the Arcade Fire. Providing myth to die for and money to burn respectively, those two bands made this claim on history possible. The hoarse, throaty voice knows its consonants, and the lyrics are full of the everyday breakdowns most of us survive into midlife and beyond--"about nothing and everything," which is what they always wanted even if they were too cool to make it plain. A-

I Hate Music [Merge, 2013]
I believe that what had Mac McCaughan sounding so elated on Majesty Shredding was the excitement of having finally learned how to make an album worthy of his myth. So it's only natural that this is less of the same, and that in "Void" and "Staying Home" early on he's as bummed as a good grunge visionary should be. Not that bummed isn't a valid feeling appropriately expressed. But its validity is put in context by what comes right in the middle: "Trees of Barcelona," about the euphoria of sharing a rock festival in the capital of international bohemia. That's the Merge co-founder's life. Give him credit for knowing it's been a lucky one. A-

What a Time to Be Alive [Merge, 2018]
Call the most affecting political album of our brutally politicized era the lament of the slack motherfucker. Unlike most alt-rockers, Mac McCaughan thinks railing against Trump is a proper use of his aesthetic essence and finds words for his loathing: "Hate so graceless and so cavalier," "You have a dream / a bloody nightmare / for any human that's not you," "all your bad choices / are gonna cause suffering yeah." And while claiming the good guys have time on their side, he can't help observing that "all these old men / won't die too soon," which is one reason "everyone is acting normal / but no one's sleeping through the night." He's torn apart by the ineffectiveness of his present and the "shit decisions" of his past. He calculates that youthful Reagan voters greatly outnumbered Reagan Youth fans who thought they were so smart. "We were awful bored," he recalls; "too late we find our feet," he realizes. So he devotes his wakeful fifties to bitter lyrics that make themselves clear, anthemic tunes that make them inescapable, and broken vocals that make them hurt. A

Wild Loneliness [Merge, 2022]
Beginning with impressively well-turned songs about first the pandemic and then the world that was still out there dying while we got distracted by the humans who were doing the same only faster, Superchunk's first album since 2018's deftly anti-Trump What a Time to Be Alive is a late bloomer's subtle manifesto. At 55, Mac McCaughan sings more quietly than he used to, as if he has a voice he hopes he'll need five years from now. More conscious than militant, he comes across as someone who'll fight any fight that seems winnable, but also as someone who's tender as a matter of principle. Inspirational Verse: "Well I sleep like a dog/Every sound scares me to waking/I just wanna be the quiet sound/Puts you to sleep without shaking." A-