3.5 stars (out of 4)
After a nearly a decade off to attend to families, side projects and their burgeoning North Carolina-based Merge label, indie-rockers Superchunk returned in 2010 with a blast of exuberance, “Majesty Shredding.” It was the sound of a band thrilled to be picking up guitars and drums again, and making a joyous racket. The quartet sounded renewed
“I Hate Music” assesses where they are now – four people in their forties, at a stage when many bands have moved on, broken up or faded away. Whereas “Majesty Shredding” brimmed with affirmation, “I Hate Music” is a series of questions about the point and the price of carrying on. They stare into a “Void,” as death and despair shadow the songs. In “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” which namechecks the late keyboardist of ska avatars the Skatalites, guitarist Mac McCaughan sings, “I hate music? What is it worth?” For lives sustained and often redeemed by music, it represents a crisis of values, of meaning, that just about everyone encounters after working at something for so long.
The album’s more reflective tone cuts deepest in “Low F” and “What Can We Do,” and they’re both among the most intensely personal songs in the band’s long, distinguished history. Aging doesn’t mean giving up. Instead perseverance can bring a deeper reward. “I’ve got wrinkles around my eyes,” McCaughan sings, “I’ll say I love you I won’t say goodbye.” But the band also blows out the burners for 75 thrilling seconds on “Staying Home,” and amid the darker scenery, it feels cathartic.
In the end, the notion that “I Hate Music” is tested and reversed, until it becomes a rallying cry. Every ringing guitar chord affirms the opposite. As The Who once defiantly declared, “Rock is dead they say, long live rock.”
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