Review by Matt Diehl. Originally printed in Rolling Stone, 16 June 1994 n684 p109

(3 of 5 stars)

Once upon a time, independent labels provided an outlet for adventurous music the masses weren't quite ready for. No more. Too many indies these days regurgitate the same kind of Hüsker Dü rip-off bands the majors churn out. Superchunk often get blamed as the progenitor of the Hüsker-clone army, but that's not really fair; Superchunk steal enough from Buzzcocks' pimply punk pop to be apart from the pack.

On Foolish, Superchunk continue to mine their catchy fastidious punk-rock sound, occasionally proving to be masters of the genre in songs like "The First Part." That song combines a raging tempo with ringing guitar lines that surge into an insistent chorus; serrated harmonics and a manic guitar-drums crescendo add an edge that makes it more than just another three-minute hard-pop gem. Indeed, when Superchunk veer away from their trademark clamor, Foolish gets interesting. The album's opener, "Like a Fool," suggests a totally new direction: a melodic, lush drone in which singer Mac McCaughn's falsetto struggles against a mornful wall of guitars. And "Driveway to Driveway" offers up a chugging, New Wavish pop rock, lamenting lost love with a twangy guitar hook that wouldn't be out of place in a John Huges teen-angst movie set in the grunge age.

Despite these changes, similar tempos and volumes blur the songs into sludge, and McCaughn's adolescent yelp doesn't help. When Superchunk balance their interest in melody with their tendency to noise, as on the churining "Kicked In," their tunes resemble nothing more than the sentimental, driving songs Mick Jones used to pen for the Clash. This sincerity, though, has caused backlash against Superchunk, once one of the most heralded indie bands. At a time when Pavement's tossed-off absurdities rule the cool school, Superchunk's earnestness comes off a little worn. Still, when one can make out the lyrics, Superchunk's anthems center on mundane, everyday concerns that betray an appealing modesty. At one point, McCaughn yells, "This is so exhausting, but I don't want it to stop" - a fair approximation of Superchunk when all the elements coalesce.