The music press loves to chase (or create) a good story. So when Nirvana hit big, everyone ran to chase the Seattle sound. The same happened with Athens, Georgia or Manchester, England, and Chicago. The Chicago scene was hyped around adventurous guitar bands, most often labeled as “power pop.” Eleventh Dream Day, Veruca Salt, Material Issue, and Urge Overkill had at least a moment on the national stage. The Lilacs were a part of that late ’80s – early ’90s scene. It’s been more than a quarter century since the Lilacs released new music, but now they’re back.
Endure is an apt name for a band that been on that mythical long strange trip for so long. In the liner notes, the Lilacs call it an “oft-interrupted, questionably successful venture.” Endure was produced by Richard Lloyd (Television, Matthew Sweet), an enduring presence on the underground music scene himself. Lloyd knows better than to try to make the sound too sweet. He knows to leave the rasp in the voice and the rawness in those guitars. It’s not auto-tuned perfection, because it’s the rough edges you get caught on, that pull you into the songs where you can enjoy the band’s unique perspective.
What I like most about the Lilac’s music is the friction between how the songs sound and what they’re actually saying. If I didn’t speak English, I would only pick up on the macho swagger in the delivery. Monica has an aggressive snarl confrontational delivery. Then the words get to you. “Monica” opens with “Hey, little person behind the book, Hey I’m talking to you!” So far, that could be a guy posturing, trying to impress. Then a shift takes place and we hear, “If I take you out, I’ll be a gentleman, I’ll keep my hands to myself, I don’t want to stay here alone.”
That juxtaposition of macho and woke appears again on “I Saw Her First.” At first it sounds like a variation on the theme of don’t-take-my-girl. “I’m not going to smile while you steal my girl.” The chorus sets us um p for a tear down of his rival. The verses go all “Jolene” on us. Our rock dude calls out the interloper saying, “You got tight pants, You’re skinnier than me, You’ve got great hair I see why she’s intrigued.” Then later, he’s talking to his romantic rival who reveals he loves the band. It’s hard to hate this guy, but… don’t take my girl just because you can!
The Lilacs didn’t make a big splash on their first go round. They kn-ow they’re not going to be competing with BTS. That’s all right. Having fun making music is a good thing.