When I saw Superdrag open for Pulp a few years ago, I quickly dismissed the group as a bunch of hillbillies who desperately wanted to be British. While that assessment might have some validity, the Tennessee natives prove themselves to be much more than that on their third LP, In the Valley of Dying Stars.
Surviving a change of bass players and record labels since their last release, Superdrag sound incredibly focused and tight on their new album. Loud yet melodic, chock full of toe-tapping beats and irresistible hooks, In the Valley of Dying Stars is straight-ahead guitar pop in the tradition of such undervalued acts as Cheap Trick and the Buzzcocks.
One of the standout tracks is the opener, "Keep It Close to Me" which has an intro so serious it's silly. Accompanied only by a propulsive guitar riff, leader John Davis sings, "I want rock 'n' roll / But I don't want to deal with the hassle / I know what I know / But I don't want to feel like an asshole." He also comes up with some ridiculously simple rhymes such as "direct / suspect / insects" and "chosen / frozen" but the musical backing is so self-assured and grandiose that the simplicity somehow works.
On "Goin' Out," Davis gives Dave Grohl some competition for the title of most lovelorn man in guitar pop with bombastic lyrics like: "There's a dull ache in my side / Where you came in / I blame myself / How blind could I have been." With a grand stroke of perversity, Davis dreamily croons, "Remember when I felt like caving in / There's a broken, bleeding body where you've been." The song even cops the guitar solo from Blondie's "Presence, Dear" proving that Superdrag are well versed in their pop A-B-C's.
Other tracks demonstrate that Superdrag are equally adept at rock ballads, albeit ones with a skewed point of view. "Ambulance Driver" borrows ever so slightly from "Crimson and Clover" and tells the unfortunate story of a rescuer who arrived too late. As for "The Warmth of a Tomb" and "Unprepared" -- well, those titles pretty much speak for themselves.
Hopefully, the switch from a major label to an independent one will allow Superdrag to make music on their own terms for some time to come. On this first small-label effort, the group seems rejuvenated. The feeling is contagious.