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SUPERDRAG (Buy CDs by this artist)
the Fabulous 8-track Sound of Superdrag (Darla) 1995
Superdrag Plays Regretfully Yours (Elektra) 1996
Headtrip in Every Key (Elektra) 1998
Senorita EP (Darla) 1999
Stereo "360 Sound" (Superdrag Sound Laboratories) 1999
In the Valley of Dying Stars (Arena Rock) 2000
Rock Soldier EP (Arena Rock) 2000
Greetings From Tennessee (Arena Rock) 2001

While common sense would lead to the assumption that the titular 8-track of Superdrag's debut mini-album is one of those full-featured studio contraptions that puts eight separate channels of music on tape — more than it took to record the entire Beatles' catalogue, it might be noted — the Knoxville quartet's "fabulous sound" would be better explained if it had been captured on a vintage cartridge player plugged into a dilapidated Chevy van's cigarette lighter. The guitars sound like they're being played through a transistor radio; there's no way to know the rhythms aren't being beaten out on shoeboxes. Fortunately, the fuzzy fortitude of singer/guitarist John Davis' Weezer-beat pop songs is righteous fuel for such lo-fi obfuscation. "I keep on breathing anyway" — a shrugged line in "Bloody Hell" — typifies the level of ambition Davis claims, although that doesn't keep him from slipping delightful melodies and clever chord changes through the haze of guitar distortion and pancake-flat sound. Armed with realistically (meaning both hopeless and a little cynical) romantic lyrics, the seven catchy songs are structured simply enough to withstand the distorted onslaught and come out grinning. The wobbly noise storms blowing through "Blown Away" only invigorate the already peppy tune; "Really Thru" has the casual aplomb of prime Jesus and Mary Chain. Easy, casual fun.

The same can't be said of Regretfully Yours, which adds the sound of dollar signs to the mix and loses some spunk in the process. Signed to a major label, Superdrag assents to clearer sound and more sensible arrangements at the hands of producer Tim O'Heir, who does nothing out of line except drain off just enough of the haphazard charm to make the tunecore commercially presentable. That Davis' vulnerably sweet and sour songwriting is in full effect is the album's saving grace, but the audible sense of what Superdrag is about has changed a lot. Naturally, the most engagingly messy tracks are shunted to the back of the disc.

[Ira Robbins]