After Kurt Cobain committed suicide, people wondered if mainstream alternative rock would die along with him. It’s debatable the ‘grunge’ movement died that year, seeing as bands like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots by 1995, were already releasing far more standard rock records that had more correlation to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin respectively than anything that was considered ‘grunge’ a few years before them. In fact, Nirvana’s last record “In Utero” didn’t fit the stereotypical mold of the famous grunge sound. Now with the flannel wearing Godfather of mainstream rock gone, where would alternative rock go?
The short answer for that question would be: it got a lot more interesting. By the time 1996 rolled around, it seemed like thousands of bands and artists of every shape and color, were making it big in the mainstream. “Alternative” was no longer a generic term thrown around to describe artists who were not Madonna or Metallica, it was a huge umbrella took in everything from industrial like Nine Inch Nails, jazz of Fiona Apple, electronica from The Chemical Brothers, you name it, if it was unique and ambitious, it was alternative. There was even a mini-British Invasion going down with bands like Oasis, Blur, and Kula Shaker. Which leads me into my introduction to what would become my all time favorite band, Superdrag.
Early that summer, Superdrag’s sweet-but-snotty pop rock anthem “Sucked Out” was in Buzz Bin rotation on MTV. I’ll admit right here and now that I wasn’t a fan. At this time Oasis had been the biggest band on the scene (or at least claimed to be) when I seen Superdrag’s singer John Davis with his Beatles haircut, skinny slacks, and Peter Brady dress shirt and thought “Oh God, ANOTHER Beatle’s wanna-be?” and complete dismissed it. Sure, “Sucked Out” was a pretty decent song but it really didn’t do anything for me. It sounded like Trent Reznor singing Green Day’s “Basket Case”. meh.
Later, that year I was up late watching MTV Dream Time (for those of you too young to know what that is, from about 11pm until 5am, MTV would play nothing but music videos. no hosts, no themes, just music videos from just about all genres but mainly alternative rock) it was a nightly tradition: watch music videos until myself, went to ‘dream time’. Sometime around 2am, A music video started. A smokey, blue tinted screen with a silhouette of a person slow motion running toward the screen. The sound of a droning one note pounding in anticipation. Then by far, the coolest guitar riff I had ever heard! Even though a simple three-note lick, it sounded like a 747 being stretched like a rubber band. It was “Destination Ursa Major”. I hadn’t heard anything like it. It was buzzy, noisy, distorted, but at the same time melodic, lush, and just all around good. The coolest song my 13 year old ears had ever heard. When it was over, I muted the TV in hopes the song would stay in my head long enough for me to write it down on something so I could rush out and buy the album the very next day. I jotted down the title of the song then the band name…. Superdrag? Wait a second, didn’t they do that “Sucked Out” song??
It’s criminal that “Destination Ursa Major” wasn’t met with the same popularity as “Sucked Out”. Maybe it could have if given the chance? MTV only played the video a handful of times and each time, it was around the same time. 2am. Excluding myself, who sat up and watched that channel at that hour to catch new music? That channel was glorified background noise at that hour, much less a record company’s buffet. Almost tragic!
“Regretfully Yours” starts out with “Slot Machine/Phaser” two songs that cannot be heard without each other and by far the coolest opening to album ever to be recorded by ANY band. Yes that sounds gushy but I mean every single word just as Superdrag means every single note in that performance. There is something magical that presents it’self with that first squeal of that over-driven guitar amp. It signifies exactly what you are up for with the rest of the album. It’s relentless with it’s track listing. You are pogo-ing in place within seconds of “Slot Machine” then throwing your fists in the air during “Phaser” then losing your power-pop loving mind by the time “Carried” hits. The fourth track is the single “Sucked Out” and even that song that I didn’t particularly care for, within the context of the surrounding songs, sounds great. It really gave me a greater appreciation for the song and even made me feel a bit guilty that I had previously dismissed it.
Things get a bit more bitter and threatening with “Cynicality” showcasing that this band is capable of harder edged punk than the previous melody heavy power pop anthems before it let on. “Destination Ursa Major” comes around next with a slightly different mix than the music video version, stripped of the Paul McCartney-esque “nothing is true-oooOOHH!” that was an even classier nod to The Beatles than anything Oasis ever could (sorry Gallagher brothers, but just calling ’em as I see ’em). The beauty of this record is the fact that this was a new band on the scene that was bringing the vintage power-pop influence to the forefront but doing it in such a way, their influences weren’t stealing the limelight. There are nods to The Beatles, Replacements, My Bloody Valentine to name a few, but it still sounds like Superdrag. Not a band trying their hardest to be ‘new’ version of any other act. The album has a very ‘classic’ feel to it. The album cover looks like something you would find in a flea market or the yardsale of a 1960s era audiophile. Before the song “Whitey’s Theme” plays, there is a subtle hum complete with pops and crackles as if you flipped the record over to side B. It’s the little things like that really makes this album complete.
Clocking in at just a tad over forty minutes, the album is lean and to the point. The only down time it ever gets in is with the emotional ballad “Nothing Good Is Real” but even that song builds up to an explosive finale that would make both Big Star and My Bloody Valentine proud. Lyrically things are kept pretty vague. The most straightforward is “Sucked Out” which ironically enough is about disdain of the perception of mainstream radio. The rest of the songs could very well be about anything, but are done in such a way as you relate to them regardless of what they mean. The star of “Regretfully Yours” is the sum of all parts. A band that truly were something special, destined to become one of the most influential acts in the business….
Sadly that didn’t happen. Sure “Sucked Out” was played on mainstream radio throughout the summer, and music video was in heavy rotation on MTV, but without the support of the label and marketing push, “Destination Ursa Major” (one of the strongest songs on the record) failed to chart or get anywhere near matching the success of the band’s debut single. It’s a tragic story that would later become the industry standard for a lot of bands in rock music. These record labels were in the business to make money after all, and supporting artistry didn’t always fall into that. “Sucked Out” was so successful that it become the template in which the label would try to force onto the band from then on out. A double edged sword of popularity and stereotype.
I could talk about this band for days. How their next record “Head Trip In Every Key” is my all time favorite album, or how they were the nicest group of musicians I had ever talked to when I met them on their 2007 reunion tour, or how their music has played an extremely important part of my life. But this record started it all. By falling in love with “Destination Ursa Major” upon my first listen, had shown me at an early age that not all music needs popularity to be good. It made me want to listen to other band’s album cuts to see if I had been over looking something by dismissing them how I dismissed Superdrag from the start. I guess you could say that “Regretfully Yours” changed the way I listened to music, and that in many ways changed my life. As deep and heavy as that sounds, I stand by behind it.
Nearly twenty years later, the album still holds up today. It may not even be my favorite Superdrag album but I still correlate it with a time in my life where just about every band had the chance to be my favorite. I out grew most of those bands but Superdrag remained constant. I thank them for it.