Sebadoh, III

Sebadoh, III

Whenever an album is rereleased with a passel of bonus tracks, there’s a myth that suggests that it’s a classic worthy of being rediscovered by a new generation. The updated double-disc version of Sebadoh’s III reveals that as the dirty lie it is. If it’s being hailed as a lost masterpiece, it’s only because of severe grade inflation.

Originally released in 1991, III captures the moment in pre-Nevermind indie-rock when the music had to decide what it was actually trying to do. Like Guided By Voices before it all came together on Propeller, Sebadoh was at this point intrigued by the melodic formalism of pop but still distrustful of its accessibility. The result was an album whose defining feature isn’t musical but attitudinal, a double LP characterized by the non-editing of a band that indulged in every idea and every whim without regard to merit, as though each one was worthy of capturing on tape and sharing with the world.

Which is a shame, because Lou Barlow is a guy who, within a few short years, would eventually start to have ideas very much worth having. But before Sebadoh could have anything worthwhile to say, it would have to become an entirely different band, one that actually cared about the records it put out. It would also have to do away with the snotty high sarcasm of the “Gimme Indie Rock” single, included here as a bonus that solidifies its status as its generation’s spiritual descendent of “Like A Rolling Stone.”

It also cheapens it in context, since it’s easy to piss in people’s soup when you’re pissing everywhere else as well. If III were simply composed of mildly half-baked indie pop like “Violet Execution,” “The Freed Pig,” and “Supernatural Force,” it would be a tolerable portrait of a band in its inchoate state. But it’s not. It’s loaded up with wretched tracks like “Wonderful, Wonderful” on the original album and “Calling Yog Soggoth” in the bonuses that not only far outweigh the slight charm of the others but devalue them by their kinship.

If you’re a Sebadoh completist who hasn’t yet encountered III, you’ll probably feel compelled to get it either way. And you’ll listen to it. And you’ll struggle. And if you’re more of a mental gymnast than I am, you’ll work hard to convince yourself of its deeply buried genius. The sepia glow of history and the weight of an entire extra disc’s worth of unearthed demos, single tracks, works in progress, and alternate takes practically orders the album’s naysayers to dig deep and empathize with its claims of masterpiecehood.

But the album had no such aspirations of its own, conceived and executed as it was as a slapdash middle-finger of noise. Sebadoh knew as much, peppering the stream-of-consciousness self-promotion in “Showtape ’91” (which the band played before gigs) with pronouncements like “Incompetence masquerading as inspiration, inspiration mistaken for true talent…Sebadoh!” A decade and a half down the line, III remains what it always was and what it always intended to be: a godawful mess.

[Sebadoh is playing 4/13/07 at Walter’s on Washington, with The Bent Moustache.]
(Domino Recording Company -- P.O. Box 47029, London, ENGLAND SW18 1WD;; Sebadoh --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Monday, March 12th, 2007. Filed under Reviews.

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