One theme I find myself frequently revisiting in many of these reviews is “smart people making dumb rock for smart people”—music made by the likes of Supagroup, the Darkness and Andrew W.K. The Supersuckers are on that list, and have been since the early ‘90s, when they were (somehow) the cowpunk outfit in the grunge-heavy Sub Pop stable. That was many moons ago—the ‘Suckers are on their own label, Mid-Fi, these days—but the band is still going strong, churning out catchy, fist-pumping, no-frills, high octane rock and roll better than almost everybody else on the scene. The heart and soul of the ‘Suckers is Eddie Spaghetti (nee Edward Carlyle Daly III), the band’s cowboy hat- and wraparound shades-wearing frontman / bassist. Spaghetti’s one of those guys who gets that rock music is best when it’s fun, a little bit dumb and ragged around the edges—and I’m not talking novelty records here; more like songs about drinkin’ and fightin’ and lookin’ at sexy dames.
Granted, the Supersuckers haven’t released an album of new material in over two years (2003’s Motherfuckers Be Trippin’ was their last studio release, with a new disc planned for early ‘06), but they’ve been hella-busy, releasing a DVD, two live concert albums and a compilation disc, as well as playing almost 200 concerts a year. Also in that span, Spaghetti released a breezy solo album of (mostly) cover tunes that he banged out in three days, called The Sauce. Spaghetti’s incapable of making a bad album, but The Sauce was better than any album with a cover featuring a barbecue sauce-covered woman had any right to be, as Spaghetti effortlessly tackled deep cuts by countrified artists that he has been indebted to ever since the ‘Suckers’ Must’ve Been High album: Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle, even Kris Kristofferson. And while it didn’t rock like a ‘Suckers album, The Sauce was thematically tight—nearly all the songs on the disc were about drugs and they trouble they cause—and most importantly, proved that Spaghetti was a bona-fide alt-country guy and one that didn’t need his speakers to always go to 11 in order to say something worthwhile. Go find The Sauce.
Spaghetti gave himself five days to record Old No. 2, the follow-up to The Sauce, so, with those extra two days, the album should be better, right? Not quite. The album’s cover tune choices are completely new, yet still perfectly logical—Nick Lowe! Tom Waits! Bob Dylan!—and there’s a handful of worthwhile originals, but Old No. 2 simply doesn’t “hang together” as well as The Sauce did.
As the covers go, Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” gets things started right, understated yet confident, letting people know that Spaghetti keeps his day job and his solo work separate. Meanwhile, AC/DC’s “Carry Me Home” (an obscure outtake from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap), a tale of drunkenness and loneliness, is a perfect match for Spaghetti. Ditto for his galloping take on the Coasters’ “Hey Sexy” (rejiggered and better known as “Lovey Dovey”), which plays to Spaghetti’s charm and goofiness—“I never saw a sweater looking better!” he tells a sexy dame walking down the street. And it’s impossible to screw up Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”—again, a nice choice for the man-child Spaghetti. Really, the only cover tune that fails is Nick Lowe’s “Without Love”. On paper, it’s a fine match—early Lowe was every bit the smart aleck that Spaghetti is now—but Spaghetti’s delivery feels somehow too lazy, too rushed and too flat all at once.
As for the originals, Spaghetti turns in four (double the number that graced The Sauce), and two of them are among the best tunes he’s penned yet. “All Along” is a sweet love song, with just the right amount of bounce, and “Here We Go” is a funny ode to wanderlust that flows naturally from a man who spends most of the year on the road. “Some People Say” is perfectly serviceable, with only “I Don’t Wanna Know” feeling like an outright miss. Still, there’s enough promise shown here to hope that solo album number three will be mostly original material (and not just stripped down versions of Supersuckers tunes; the full band couldn’t pull off “All Along” or “Here We Go”).
Ultimately, the difference between The Sauce and Old No. 2 is that the former was greater than the sum of its parts while the new album is merely a collection of pretty darn good songs. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Eddie’s fanbase won’t be disappointed, but the magic is missing this time around.