Superchunk - Acoustic Foolish (Cover Artwork)


Acoustic Foolish (2019)


I hear Superchunk is kind of a big deal. I guess they've been doing this a long time and a couple of the members formed a record label… Marge Records or something… that has at least one major release from a band named after an arcade that burned down. They’ve recorded a lot of albums and presumably have a dedicated fanbase.

I wouldn’t know anything about any of that, though. This is the first time I've really listened to them.

I was afraid Acoustic Foolish, an all-acoustic re-imagining of their 1994 landmark album Foolish (bet you couldn’t guess from the title), was going to be a real bore fest. All acoustic? More like all a-snooze-tic, am I right? (Audience laughs hysterically.) Thankfully, Superchunk put just enough flavor in these arrangements to keep the songs from sounding too same-y. You want aching string swells? Got ‘em. Quirky, reflective guitar plucking? Yup. A saxophone? No? Too bad, it’s here anyway. It actually works pretty well, too. Give it a chance!

The lyrics give the impression of being very personal but are just cryptic enough to keep you from knowing exactly what lead singer Mac McCaughan is on about. He sounds just a little bit like Pee-wee Herman, which is more endearing than annoying. His voice helps give the songs an innocence that takes the edge off some of the more bitter words. Allegedly, many of them concern the break-up between him and bassist Laura Ballance that was fresh when they were originally written. She stayed in the band and continued to operate the label with McCaughan (obviously) and has admitted that she used to hide her tears on stage when they performed these songs on tour. And you thought G.G. Allin was into self-harm.

My personal favorite songs are “Like a Fool” and “Driveway to Driveway.” Both have fragile but great riffs that are as pensive as the lyrics, without sounding melancholy. The whole record is pretty consistent, though. Sure, there are some minor moments that seem to pass by without much notice. But Superchunk are professionals. These performances are confident and well-rehearsed, so even the lesser songs seem strong. They could have just phoned this one in and coasted on the reputation of the original, but Acoustic Foolish stands on its own. I wouldn’t be surprised if even long-time fans wind up preferring this version, since such personal songs lend themselves to the sober tone that permeates this record. Even if you don’t know exactly what the songs are about, it’s easy to throw on and listen to passively, letting the small details become more apparent over the course of repeated listens, or really tune in and work your own interpretation out of it.

I wonder if any of their other albums have a saxophone on them.