Those familiar with Superchunk likely admire the two-decade old band for being survivors and not “selling out” by caving in to pressure and signing with one of the many major labels courting them in the early ’90s. Others might agree, but would add that Superchunk were (and continue to be) really fucking business savvy. It doesn’t take a genius to know that virtually all industry-touted “next big things” are chewed up and spat out as soon as whatever trend they belong to fizzles. But who would have guessed in the early ’90s that major labels would soon be brought to their knees by peer-to-peer file sharing? Admittedly, they still have a lot of power in terms of sales – but only with certain genres. According to Billboard, there was not a single rock record in the top-selling 25 albums of 2010.
A decade-and-a-half prior, the North Carolina quartet ignored the Siren call of the majors and released their fourth full-length on their own label, Merge Records. While likely stressful in and of itself, the romantic breakup of frontman Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Balance couldn’t have helped. No matter. Foolish was something of a masterpiece for the band.
Relationship woes are stamped throughout the lyrics but never veer into self-pitying, thanks to the earnest-sounding, gee-whiz vocals of McCaughan. The melodic chords and swirling guitars also add brightness to the somber mood. For example, it’s difficult to grasp the full effect of the repeated line “You can’t pretend to not know how that hurts” in the catchy chorus of “Without Blinking” on first listen. The energetic “Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything” begins with “You used to cut me up inside/ I won’t let you do it again” in the first few lines.
From a strictly marketing standpoint, Superchunk’s decision to remaster and reissue Foolish 17 years after its debut is a little puzzling for a few reasons, not the least of which is that Merge is one of the few thriving indie labels that features an enviable roster. Major labels typically re-release certain albums during noteworthy anniversaries, like the recent 20th anniversary reissue of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Labels usually include extra goodies and slick remasters to entice listeners to purchase an album they likely already have. Superchunk does the same with the CD and LP versions of Foolish. The less expensive MP3 and FLAC editions only feature the main 12 songs. Perhaps Superchunk wanted to expose the fantastic Foolish to those not old enough to enjoy it during its initial release.
Or the band is really fucking business savvy.