Material Issue - International Pop Overthrow (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Material Issue

International Pop Overthrow (1991)


The '90s were a strange decade for music, at the onset of the decade you had the death of hair metal, the musical giant of the previous decade. Shortly after that, you had the rise of grunge with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Mudhoney all finding a foothold and then dominating the mainstream. It wasn’t just an era of frustrated young men sporting flannel though, you had artists like Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck and R.E.M finding mainstream acceptance on the Billboard charts. As successful as all of these bands were and, in some instances, continue to be they weren’t able to do what a little known power pop trio from Chicago called Material Issue did with their debut International Pop Overthrow. And that was get a festival named after one of their albums.

Released in 1991, Material Issue’s debut was critically acclaimed and fared decently on the Billboard Top 200 charts, reaching number 86. And with good reason, it is one of the best power pop albums of the past thirty years. Power pop is always a difficult genre for a band to undertake, do you go the route of bands like The Who, take the Big Star approach or embrace the harder rocking styles of Cheap Trick. Material Issue opted to split the difference between all three.

On the album opener “Valerie Loves Me," the band sets the tone for the album with its great melodies, smart lovelorn lyrics and just the right amount of guitar crunch. The odd thing is, while power pop mostly slid under the radar in the early '90s while the world was fascinated by the grunge being pumped out of America’s northwest, it has more in common with the pop-punk of the early '90s and the first part of the 21st century than anything else. Though, that may say more about the pop-punk scene from that era, especially the mainstream side, than it does the quality of this album as a whole.

Other album standouts include the unrequited love of “This Far Before,” the wistful “Very First Lie” and the near-perfect chorus of “Diane.” The driving title track also features one of my favorite lyrics of all time, when the late Jim Ellison sings “I don’t need a girlfriend, I need an accomplice” he simply and almost perfectly captures what so many songwriters try to, young love.

While other bands from the '90s would have longer and more commercially successful careers. And Chicago would produce bands that would become household names throughout the decade, none of them made an album like this. None of them made an album that was enough of its time to appeal to Generation X but still rooted enough in the past to appeal to Baby Boomers still clinging to what they considered the glory days of rock music. None of them released an album that had an entire festival graced with its namesake.