Sebadoh, III

Jack Rabid

By Jack Rabid

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Where many argued that this Northampton, MA group's first two albums were merely frustrating collections of unfinished song fragments — some years before Guided By Voices became celebrated for it — III was, by contrast, a wild and sometimes bizarre revelation. 17 years later, it remains one. Oh, it's still maddeningly inconsistent in approach and compositional quality. But it's much better recorded (despite several solo home demos) and, at its best, III is the flowering of what soon became one of America's most enduring indie rock outfits.

An indie-rock classic perched at the thrilling precipice of total collapse

The missing piece added since 1990's The Freed Weed is underage high school dropout bassist Jason Lowenstein, whose inclusion not only gives the unfocused, largely incoherent, barely tenable group a third songwriter and some crucial rhythmic underpinning, but also lends a more focused intensity when he is allowed to play. Holdovers Eric Gaffney and Lou Barlow's rocky relationship seemed as volatile as that of Barlow's with J. Mascis in Barlow's previous band, Dinosaur Jr., (Barlow's lingering bitterness over being fired from Dino three years prior led him latter to pen III's true classic, the memorable opening diatribe about Mascis, “The Freed Pig.” Don't miss it!). The green Lowenstein must have suffered constant anxiety over his fragile tenure in a band whose members liked working alone and whose implosion seemed always imminent.

Yet this ever-present, dysfunctional, precipice-of-collapse feeling permeates every second of the aggressive, impolite, claustrophobic III, adding a punishing edge of belligerence that pinballs back and forth between Barlow's emerging melodic sophistication and unabashed romanticism and Gaffney's off the cuff, art-noise rants (full of post-punk's uncompromising anti-pop and hints of Sub Pop's emerging grunge). In the midst of this constant clash, Lowenstein's three contributions, grouped together on the second half, stake out a middle ground like a timid-but-determined peacemaker.

The nascent trio would improve the formula again on 1993's surprising Bubble and Scrape with Lowenstein's greater emergence, just before Gaffney's inevitable exit. But for all its schizophrenia, III shows undeniable seeds of their impending, more dependable greatness.