Jan 19, 2009, 05:32AM

Swervedriver makes a comeback

After a 2008 US tour, the English alt-rock band is rereleasing two classic albums.


The following audio was included in this article:
The following audio was included in this article:

For all those big-hearted, reverb-heavy rock fans out there: If you've been listening to Dinosaur Jr., Hum, and The Pixies all your life but never once caught an earful of the English band Swervedriver, well, 2009 might just be a great year after all. After two decades of limited success and horrendously bad luck (they were dropped by their record label just weeks after releasing an album TWICE!) and a 10 year hiatus, Swervedriver is back together performing live dates and days away from seeing the US rerelease of their first two albums Raise and Mezcal Head. Both albums are available on Hi-Speed Soul Records where you can also find a nifty little tour viny 7" to the Ejector Seat Reservation single "Just Sometimes." Just saying. 



"Last Train to Satansville" from Mezcal Head


"Just Sometimes" from Ejector Seat Reservation

You can find an interview with frontman Adam Franklin at Brooklyn Vegan.

  • The Most Underrated Band of the Past Twenty Years The current state of popular music depresses me. There are so many worthy bands—some anonymous, some formerly popular—wandering in the ether outside the public consciousness, waiting for one of The League of Random Tastemakers (the Internet, Guitar Hero games, or movie and TV soundtracks) to play their songs and make them relevant. When that doesn’t happen, they slink away, forgotten by a culture that, as diverse as its musical tastes may have become, only seems to crave diversity in pop or rap or “American Idol” contestants. Swervedriver is the best of all these forgotten bands, certainly of the past 20 years, and among the least fortunate. In the past year, Sony BMG Masterworks and Universal Music Enterprises have both re-released some of the band’s studio albums, with the most recent batch hitting American stores last month, and the critical community—as well as music listeners—are ignoring them all over again. Swervedriver released their first two albums (“Raise” and “Mezcal Head”) in 1991 and 1993, at the peak of the British “shoegazer” movement (named after its practitioners’ tendency to look down at the floor or at their effects pedals while playing their guitars), to generally rave reviews in their native England. Over here, the band was more of a rumor. They still are. I searched four major music review Web sites, just to be sure—rollingstone.com, spin.com, stereogum.com, and pitchforkmedia.com, and only pitchforkmedia.com had a review of any of the group’s albums. None of the reviews were of the recent batch of re-releases, though, the kind of review that can reignite interest in unduly forgotten or underrated bands. Many older bands like Love or The Velvet Underground enjoy sudden spikes in popularity after these kinds of critical reappraisals. It’s a shame. Swervedriver’s music is lush and invigorating: gently shimmering one moment, a sonic skyscraper the next. Their songs have texture: an epic, wide-screen sound that appeals to mainstream rock fans, long instrumentals that appeal to meditative people, and buried vocals that appeal to those who like nuance. I listen to them on road trips, while studying, to shake off a malaise, whatever—but especially on the road trips. Their music is like jet fuel, and no one has heard of them! This is how the band got screwed. In the 1990s, their record label, Creation Records, had several other shoegazer bands from England under contract, most of whom also sold more records—such as My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, and Boo Radleys—so marketing Swervedriver wasn’t a priority. More frustrating is how critics pigeonholed them into this movement of shy, retiring types that they never really fit into primarily because of their record label and geographic location. So thanks to their association with a scene and a sound they never fully embodied, they fell out of favor with British music fans even as they reflected (more adroitly, I’d like to add) the way music was headed in America with groups like Soundgarden, Nirvana, and, later, Creed. They could have effectively crossed over into America and thrived if the distribution of their albums here wasn’t so notoriously weak. Then Creation Records signed Oasis. When Oasis became the biggest band in the world in 1994, the head of Creation Records, Alan McGee, ordered the boys in Swervedriver to make pop hits like Oasis. Swervedriver refused to compromise their sound, and the label cut them loose shortly after their third album, “Ejector Seat Reservation,” was released in 1995. By 1997 they’d found a new label and recorded another album, only to be dropped again, just weeks after that album was released. Their albums, poorly distributed to America even during the best of times, were certainly doomed never to be heard by a wider audience after that. They broke up in 1998. If you’re lucky, you might find one of their new re-releases at the Exclusive Company with an IMPORT sticker on it, scarce as always. It’s a shame. Swervedriver is one of the rare British bands from that era with a muscular hard rock sound that translates well in America (though with more interesting psychedelic and technical flourishes than most of our bands), and have aged far better than their peers. For example, I like the other shoegazer bands, but in comparison to Swervedriver they sound like whiny sissies using anachronistic studio tricks. Ride is a fantastic band, but they tried to make hits like Oasis, failed, and broke up in 1996. Slowdive, whose music sounds precious and suicidal, broke up in 1995. Neither band has reunited. My Bloody Valentine, the standard-bearers of the genre, haven’t released any new songs since 1991. Yet Swervedriver abides. When I heard they were reuniting for a quick tour of the U.S. in 2008, I stayed up all night to buy tickets for their first concert in the Midwest region in 10 years. I expected a decent crowd, but when I walked in Chicago’s Metro club a few minutes before the opening act, there were only a couple stragglers standing around the stage, sipping beers. Thankfully, after the opening acts had played, the club was packed. The crowd’s median age was probably 35, but there were college kids, too. When the music began, the audience connected on a level I hadn’t seen before. I stood—make that gyrated—in the front row, inches from the high-rise of amps and speakers. The people in the front rows, women with fashionable glasses and men with beer bellies, did a lot of bouncing around. People played air drums and shredded invisible guitars. One guy hunched over the stage right next to me and played a spastic air guitar, mimicking the band note for note, for nearly the entire show. At show’s end, the band lit cigars, smiled, and gracefully receded to the shadows. It was equal parts sad and triumphant, but if one band is used to contradictory emotions, it’s these guys: the band that’s too beloved to totally disappear, too poorly distributed to be heard, too neglected by critics to be known, and too resilient to quit. -Charles Greenley

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  • Yeah, and Creed, man. Creed.

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