As if Seattle didn’t already have enough scrungy sponges guzzled to the gills on ’70s and ’80s Britrock, the Supersuckers arrived there from Tucson at the start of the ’90s and set about proving that Sabbath and Zep weren’t the only malevolent forces creeping around Mr. Gates’ neighborhood. On The Songs All Sound the Same — an entertaining compilation of three singles, plus previously unreleased covers of Madonna (“Burning Up”), the Dead Boys (“What Love Is”) and Nazareth (“Razamanaz”) — the unpretentious quartet demonstrates a facility for aping both Motörhead (“Sex & Outrage”) and Bad Company (“Saddletramp”), fueled by good-natured enthusiasm and little else. Singer/bassist Edward Carlyle Daly III (aka Eddie Spaghetti) has a functional shout that gets the words out without making any big stink about it; guitarists Ron Heathman and Dan Bolton make enough slovenly noise to ensure that nothing else much matters. The 2001 reissue adds three selections: two early takes of tunes that would wind up on their proper album debut and a trashy cover of the Flamin Groovies’ ode to incestuous marital bliss, “Second Cousin.”
Signing to Sub Pop and getting together with producer Jack Endino, the Supersuckers streamlined their alcohol- burning funnycar and floored the accelerator for The Smoke of Hell, a feckless joyride that cruises right past the manic rockabilly Caddy being driven down the same lost highway by labelmate Reverend Horton Heat. Jettisoning the transatlantic components from its sound, the band belches out such all-American exhaust fumes as “Hell City, Hell,” “Hot Rod Rally,” “Drink and Complain” and “Sweet ‘n’ Sour Jesus.” None of it means nothing, but the sheer expense of tightly compressed energy is its own breathless reward. (For proof of serious creative activity behind the blur, check the B-side of the “Hell City, Hell” single, a smoking gun rhythm rock rendering of Ice Cube’s “Dead Homiez.”)
While the Supersuckers really get into their flannel cowboy shtick visually on La Mano Cornuda, the album shifts towards less-incendiary garage-pop. Half the numbers stick to the crazed skedaddle rock’n’boogie of The Smoke of Hell (“I Was Born Without a Spine,” “She’s My Bitch”), but the rest are catchy mid-tempo charmers (“On the Couch,” “Creepy Jackalope Eye,” “Clueless”) or forcefield ’77-style rockers (“How to Maximize Your Kill Count,” “Glad, Damn Glad”). Conrad Uno’s production doesn’t raise Endino’s blinding gleam, but the effect is salutary, allowing the band to indulge its naturally wanton slop-rock instincts to great hairy effect. (In a bratty indulgence, the smirking quartet cruelly patches in embarrassing phone messages from Endino and Mudhoney bassist Matt Lukin.) Released to promote on an Australian tour, The Songs All Sound the Same II (aka Put This on the Barbie, Fucker) is nifty but non-essential, highlights from the first two Sub Pop long players and key B-sides that distills the Supersuckers’ essence.
The stupendous Sacrilicious unveils a supercharged Supersuckers, with Heathman temporarily traded for ex-Didjits guitarist/singer Rick Sims, a forceful visionary and a sharp songwriter with a blistering sense of humor. Produced by Butthole Surfer Paul Leary, the carefree Supersuckers come on like a gangbusting Mojo Nixon fronting a young Replacements: “Bad Bad Bad,” “Born With a Tail,” “The 19th Most Powerful Woman in Rock,” “Bad Dog,” “Ozzy” and “Run Like a Motherfucker” (sung by Sims, whose thin yelling is no match for Eddie’s confident on-point holler) all draw a witty, squinty-eyed bead on their targets and mow them down with shapely plumes of flamethrown pop aggression. Upping the creative ante one notch, “My Victim” manages the neat trick of plugging Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” into a runaway rock blender without shorting out either appliance. The album- closing capper is “Don’t Go Blue,” an acoustic blues warning to those threatened with extinction: “If cussin’ and swearin’ is all you’re gonna do / You’ll be playing the blue room, opening up for you-know-who.”
With guitarist Heathman back in the fold, the Supersuckers take a surprising left-turn down a dusty back road with the all-country Must’ve Been High. Armed with an army of self-effacing Nashville cats plus helpful liner notes that point out the similarities between country and punk, the album manages to be simultaneously reverent and irreverent, with a slew of solid tunes and a dedication to the genre’s craft. In contrast to the hazy, nocturnal debauchery celebrated by the band’s previous output, the focus shifts mainly to lazy, back-porch Sunday mornings, as in Breeder Kelley Deal’s guest duet “Hungover Together” (written by Supersuckers manager Danny Bland when he was a member of the Best Kissers in the World). Whether or not the album is a knee-jerk reaction to the mid-’90s commodification of alternative rock, the world was long overdue for cowpoke philosophizin’ about unexplored topics like stage security partitions (“Barricade”) and big-shot producers (the devil-goes-down-to-Seattle story song “The Captain,” which points a finger — guess which one? — at the corporate co-opt of youth culture). Somehow it all makes sense, a potentially alienating gamble that ultimately proved that the one-joke Supersuckers possess more than one punchline.
After the band left Sub Pop in pursuit of commercial and artistic self-sufficiency, the label issued a best-of. Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World does a fine job of closing the first chapter on the Supersuckers’ career. Not only does this comprehensive, 27-song survey offer an ample sampling, it also boasts a busload of rarities and curios, including two previously unissued numbers with the band’s first singer (before bassman Eddie Spaghetti volunteered for double duty). Other highlights include the Twisted Willie tribute “Bloody Mary Morning,” “Dead Homiez” and a version of “Hell City, Hell” with vocals by Zeke’s Blind Marky Felchtone. “400 Bucks,” from the split-single with Rev. Horton Heat, is conspicuously absent, but the band’s more effective pairing with Steve Earle yields up a riotous joint romp through the Stones’ “Before They Make Me Run.”
The road remains a prominent theme for the ‘Suckers on the transitional but confident Evil Powers of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s the heartiest dose of songs about restlessness in the travelin’ band’s catalog, and salts that familiar mine with growing disillusion at the business of show. “My Kickass Life” celebrates the touring rocker’s lifestyle, while “Fisticuffs” and “Dead Meat” detail the rock world’s backstage and boardroom scuffles. “Goin’ Back To Tucson,” “Stuff ‘n’ Nonsense,” “Cool Manchu” and “Santa Rita High” (a backhanded homage to the boys’ Tucson alma mater) all look back on the bad ol’ days, betraying the emergence of — could it be? — a sentimental streak in our guitar-wielding band of Devil’s advocates. It does seem like an older, wiser Eddie Spaghetti who pines, “There’s no such place as faraway until you’ve left something behind.” Could this newfound maturity threaten the balance of the band’s juvenile, fun-lovin’ persona? Certainly not if “Dirt Roads, Dead Ends and Dust,” the best tune on the album, is any indication. The songs still all sound the same, sure, but they do just sound a little more grown up, and more slickly produced.
As the debut release by the Supersuckers’ own label, Mid- Fi, Must’ve Been Live is an odd choice. The band’s first concert recording finds the boys in full country mode, running (faithfully) through most of the songs from Must’ve Been High. It’s not an unsatisfying record, with plenty of extra sturm and twang in the form of such cover gems as “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin.” Pasted together from several shows to give the impression of one full performance, this rough-hewn collection benefits from the aid of a lot of devilishly idle hands, particularly Willie Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael, who blows handsome harp on most of the album’s tracks.
The Supersuckers, who never claimed to be Wal-Mart- friendly, slathered on the irony by titling the leadoff song on Motherfuckers Be Trippin’ “Rock-n-Roll Records (Ain’t Sellin’ This Year).” Picking up where Evil Powers left off, the Supersuckers rebound from a series of trials and tribulations (including losing Heathman again, temporarily) to display their “Bruises to Prove It” (which, natch, follows “The Fight Song”). You’d never guess that “Pretty Fucked Up” and “Sleepy Vampire” are about parenting and childbirth, respectively, but after an unlucky 13 years together, it’s patently obvious that these guys and their fervent fans form a big, dysfunctional rock family.
Longtime drummer Dancing Eagle left the roost shortly after the album’s release. The band enlisted Mike “Murderburger” Musberger, who makes his official skin-banging debut on Live at the Magic Bag, a fairly representative snapshot of what the Supersuckers are like in the flesh, right down to such big rock moments as the infamous Supersucker Fake Encore and the obligatory Thin Lizzy cover.
Splitsville Volume One divides ten tracks between the Supersuckers and Electric Frankenstein, each of includes a cover from the other’s catalog. Cramming two half-hearted EPs together makes for a very short and overpriced full-length, but then again, a few of the quickie tracks have an immediacy lately lacking from Supersuckers records. The saucy “Devil’s Food” and “Then I’m Gone” sound as if they could have been lifted right off La Mano Cornuda.
The Junkyard Dogs, a loosely aggregated side project of undercover Supersuckers and friends (including Mudhoney’s Mark Arm), cooked up Good Livin’ Platter, a heaping portion of countrified covers (of mostly punk and metal tunes) and such decent originals as the cleverly inverted outlaw ode “Unwanted Man.” Slowed-down Ramones and Dwarves tunes are mildly fancy-tickling, but the highlights are a laid-back take on Judas Priest’s “Breakin’ the Law” and a particularly moving rendition of Devo’s “Gates of Steel.” It’s all cut to tape with an endearing looseness and an evident sense of fun. The honky-tonkin’ tunes, recorded a few years prior to Must’ve Been High, point firmly at that later album’s down-home style.
With The Sauce, Eddie Spaghetti steps out on his own, briefily, for a pleasant set of country and western favorites cut in three days with little accompaniment. A spare reprise of “Sleepy Vampire,” a standout from Motherfuckers, is downright revelatory and fits snugly alongside lovably clunky covers of tunes associated with Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard. Befitting its title, The Sauce finds most of its subject matter, and inspiration, in the bottle, and like any good slow- sippin’ whiskey, this one keeps for a while.
The benefit compilation Free the West Memphis Three was instigated by the Supersucker camp in an effort to raise awareness about Arkansas teenagers imprisoned in a widely debated murder case of controversially questionable jurisprudence. The subject of two documentary films as well as another tribute album organized by Henry Rollins, the WM3 attracted an impressive and diverse array of clarion-callers here. The Supersuckers do two tracks (one with guest vocalist Eddie Vedder), joined by Tom Waits, Killing Joke and a bunch of others.