What a Time to Be Alive triumphs again and again.
While Superchunk have been playing loud, fast, raucous rock for almost four decades, they were never an explicitly political band. Their work seemed to exist in a vacuum; they were somewhat admirable in their push to go about their business as they saw fit, regardless of what was going on around them. Then again, this was before Donald Trump used a platform of xenophobia and anti-intellectualism to rise to the highest office in the country. Unsurprisingly, a number of formerly apolitical artists seem to have been stirred awake by the presence of the orange man in the White House, and that’s exactly what seems to have happened to Mac McCaughan and company here. What a Time to Be Alive is the sound of a band reinvigorated under the worst circumstances, a band giving everything they have to make sense of a world gone insane.
The vigor displayed on What a Time to Be Alive is something of a relief, given where we last left Superchunk. Their previous album, I Hate Music, bore the marks of a band that just seemed exhausted by the very idea of making a record. By contrast, Alive arrives at breakneck speed and keeps up the pace perpetually. The title track lays out the album’s mission in case there was any room for ambiguity, pointing an accusatory finger at people “clinging to the myth that you were cheated/ Yeah, the myth that you were robbed.” Recent Superchunk albums have veered between joy and spiteful resignation, so to hear the angry Superchunk of old done in such a thoroughly convincing manner is both surprising and refreshing.
Other than a renewed venom and a focus on the turbulent present, What a Time to Be Alive is more or less what one would expect from a Superchunk album. That is, it’s loud, hooky rock with a bit of a punk bent. Granted, the subject matter makes the band’s punk roots a little more pronounced, as one would expect from an album with a song dedicated to New York hardcore band Reagan Youth. But this is still closer to the punchy rock from the Tossing Seeds compilation or the classic On the Mouth than it is to the more languid material best represented on Foolish or Indoor Living. No attempt is made to stretch these songs out or noodle around; the band’s aim is to get the message across as quickly and as angrily as they can while still remaining true to themselves. And in that regard, What a Time to Be Alive triumphs again and again.
Just a few years ago, it seemed as if Superchunk were at the end of their line. They’re not in a position where they necessarily need to be a band anymore, given that everyone involved in the band seems to be doing just fine with their non-Superchunk careers. Yet What a Time to Be Alive finds them sounding like a new band entirely. Whether it’s a true second coming for the band or a one-off record to vent political frustrations remains to be seen, though it’s unlikely that Superchunk will morph into the Clash overnight. Still, it’s great to hear this side of Superchunk again, and it’s just as good to know that we’re not alone in thinking that the world has gone mad.