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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Label: Thirty Tigers / Superdrag Sound Laboratories
Time: 12 tracks / 45:52
Some eleven years or so of potential rock rust is soundly blasted away by the relentlessly punkish attack of “Slow to Anger,” the opening track of Industry Giants, the new CD by the reunited Superdrag. The lineup of Don Coffey Jr. (drums), Brandon Fisher (guitar), Tom Papas (bass) and, of course, John Davis (singer/frontman/guitar) have not recorded together since 1998 but Industry Giants has the energy and freshness of a young, hungry band ready to carve its own path on the musical landscape.
What a difference a decade makes. John Davis, who some might call the heart of Superdrag, has returned to the group minus the addictions and personal demons of the past but still full of the aggressive pop-flavored rock energy that gave the band its unique musical signature. Davis’ conversion to Christianity had some fans worried that he’d be too righteous to rock while fans of his two excellent ‘Christian’ solo albums wondered if he would compromise his lyrical integrity. Neither camp had any reason to worry. Davis, who wrote the lion’s share of the material on Industry Giants, still writes and performs with enough of an edge to satisfy any fan of good, hard, fast-paced rock and roll and his lyrics, never arrogant or pharisaical, are infused with Biblical concepts and a decidedly Christian worldview. A perfect example of this balance takes place on the afore-mentioned opening track which paraphrases James 1:19 (“be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”) while speeding along musically at break-neck speed, leaving no wiggle-room for rhythmic mishaps.
With relentless drums, guitars screaming with distortion, and driving bass lines propelling the music, Superdrag manages to somehow seamlessly combine the energy of punk with a Beatle-influenced hard-pop sound – the result is a hooky, head-banging, hard driving mix. The guitar playing is well-informed and rich, with juicy little surprises to be found in the thick fuzz tones. Unlike lesser bands in similar musical territory, Superdrag invests a good sense of melody into the songs, shown to good effect on “Live and Breathe,” an introspective confessional that brings to mind Brian Wilson at his best, with Davis singing, “I don’t know the first thing about You / Whenever I act like I do / So what does my whole lifetime amount to, if every beat of my heart is untrue?”
A “Within You Without You” style opening starts “Everything”ll be Made Right,” as engaging a pop song as you’re likely to hear anywhere, staying thoroughly modern but borrowing a late-period Beatles lead guitar sound and featuring a memorable vocal lick in the chorus.
“Try” is a moody but elegant heavy mid-tempo rocker featuring sophisticated chord changes over a rock-steady beat. Davis’ production creates a surprisingly thick wall of sound with the minimal instrumentation used on this song and throughout the entire album.
“Filthy and Afraid” borrows a snippet of melody from The Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and the déjà-vu inducing lyric, “I remember when you said / you knew what it was like to be dead,” which should be instantly recognizable to any Beatle fan, but the song remains pure Superdrag thanks to the band’s overriding stylistic stamp.
Apparently, most of these songs were the result of Davis’ very complete demos and it shows. The album only falls off in quality and style with the two songs by Pappas (“Cheap Poltergeists” and “You’re Alive”) and, to a lesser degree, Fischer’s “Ready to Go,” which, while not as strong as the Davis material, still has a bouncy charm. None of the three non-Davis tunes has the wit, style and drive that we get on, for instance, “Five Minutes Ahead of the Chaos,” with its energetic attack, machine gun drums, reggae-tinged bridge, and witty, observant lyrics like, “If you want to usurp the power / I’ll be ready in a half an hour…”
The album closes with the almost-progressive “Deathblow to Your Pride,” which, instrumentally, is textured somewhat like vintage P.O.D. and roars with energy.
When I heard that John Davis was back with Superdrag I admit that I thought I’d be missing his wonderful solo work, but it turns out that Superdrag still gives us Davis’ unique brand of spiritually potent rock and roll, full of energy and truth. Great stuff.