Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Superdrag, "The Staggering Genius"

Song: "The Staggering Genius"
Artist: Superdrag
Album: Last Call For Vitriol
Written by: Don Coffey, Jr./John Davis/Sam Powers
Year: 2002
Key: Bm
Classification: SF1
Lyrical content: maybe your brilliance can keep you warm; there but for the grace of indie labels go I
Where used: verse



Superdrag was like a secret passed around among fans of power pop in the 1990s. Granted, pretty much every power pop act was like a secret passed around fans of power pop in the 1990s, but Superdrag was one of those bands that everyone at that particular lunch table seemed to know about. Thanks to its stance against corporate radio, folks had an opinion on "Sucked Out" whether they'd heard it or not. Unsurprisingly, that got Superdrag a burst of attention followed by a big old cold shoulder from the industry, which only seemed to fuel the band's contrariness on that particular front, and they ultimately fell victim to a fatal case of bitterness after raging against the machine a little too long. (It wasn't their sole lyrical concern by a long shot, but it was a continuing one, and it stopped looking good on them after a while.) The fact that Superdrag's fourth proper album was titled Last Call For Vitriol wasn't much of a surprise. Nor was its decision (later overturned) to call it quits not long after.

It's a nice little cautionary tale about getting so blinkered by the "industry" component of the music industry that it seeps into the songs themselves, with a spoonful of glorious tuneage helping the medicine go down a little easier. "The Staggering Genius" is a perfect example: its sarcastic bile would be a harsh pill to swallow if it weren't for the way the band is tight and economical, with the guitars slamming hard against the agitated drums as John Davis spits out poison at someone for whom he has not an ounce of respect. The song is all fierce conviction. Superdrag means business here.

What's great about "The Staggering Genius" is the way the band constantly toys with the SFCP. The opening/chorus riff isn't quite it, shifting from the I to the II instead of the V. The verse seems to hit the SFCP square, but it gets skewed in a couple directions at once: the rhythm is a bit trickier than usual, holding off on that final V for an extra breath and then throwing in a ♭VI in passing on the way back to the beginning. Unlike many, many SFCPs, the chords don't just coast from one to the other in a simple, uniform rhythm; instead, each stumbles with its own specific weight, transforming the whole into something compellingly lopsided. And the above ignores the fact that the B minor at the top of the progression is in fact no such thing, abandoned in favor of a streamlined B5 power chord that only heavily implies a minor tonality. In other words, there's a lot going on in a warhorse chord progression that's been used a hundred times without the slightest hint of creativity, and if only for that, Superdrag earns its self-righteousness for once.

Full song: Superdrag, "The Staggering Genius"
Listen to the SFCP clip for this song

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