Review Summary: Probably Sebadoh's worst, but still worth a listen for the fans.
I stumbled across this CD in the 'Joni Mitchell' section of Swindon's 'that entertainment'. I saw it peeking through the other assorted albums and I picked it up, proud with myself upon finding a Sebadoh L.P that day as Sebadoh's own section was empty - and it was sheer luck that I managed to see it amongst the copies and copies of Mitchell's face. I'd heard about them through my love of Dinosaur Jr. and always seemed to find that kind of genre of music (the raw, indie and alt rock of the late 80s and 90s) completely easy to fall in love with. I'd already purchased 'Bakesale' (perhaps their most popular album) and 'III' (perhaps their best), and I thought they were great. Some memorable and clever music from an overlooked band. I'd heard about how their music progressively got less 'raw' in a sense, how they drifted away from the 'lo-fi' area of Indie and I wasn't too keen upon hearing this. I'm not a big fan of massively 'composed' music, it can be done very well but in the long term when music takes itself too seriously or wants to be something it's not, it normally ends in tears - not to mention the hordes of fans who will scream 'sell out!!!' at any given moment. So imagine my joy when I thought I'd bought their debut album, surely the most lo-fi they can get.
It wasn't their debut.
Oh the annoyance of self-titled albums that aren't debuts! I did this with the Libertines as well. It turned out to be their last recorded L.P and this annoyed me a little, I don't like to buy albums that I don't think I'll enjoy so my stroke of luck turned out to have as much luck in it as a stroke. Upon knowing this I probably would have left it in Joni's comfort, but I don't regret it too much - I was spending money my mum had lent me to get shopping so there's no huge loss on the price part. And the album isn't bad, if that's the impression I was giving you, if anything it's good, it has its moments for sure but the whole thing isn't too memorable and kind of 'sticks together' (not in the good sense you get when an album 'flows'), like albums tend to do when you're doing something else whilst listening to them. The album shines the most when sounding like earlier Sebadoh, but that's going to be a pretty obvious thing without even listening to the album. I don't mean this in the sense that Sebadoh are trying to tread knew ground and go all experimental (I mean c'mon, its Sebadoh), it's just there's something not right about the whole experience until that special Sebadoh 'quality' is being used - but even at its lowest points, it's still there. If there's one thing that remains throughout all of Sebadoh's discography is that feeling of being angry or depressed that shines through in some very, very angsty songs. These could be seen as the fact Sebadoh don't always feel like a 'unit' (I think people have picked up on this before) but sometimes feel like... well I want to say just some guys making music but that's pretty much the definition of a band - but you get what I mean. Perhaps this is down to the fact that Sebadoh was originally a side project for Lou Barlow is his Dinosaur Jr. years, before being kicked out and making it his main concern - Barlow proved with most of Sebadoh's early work that he would've been a great assets to Dinosaur Jr.'s creative output. But this albums feels much... happier. Maybe because they were growing up or had just had enough of being sulky and shouty - well I guess songs like 'bird in hand' prove they can still be like this. But don't let this fool you, the Sebadoh isn't a happy album, it's just much happier for a Sebadoh album. You get the feeling their hearts haven't been stomped on that recently and that maybe they don't massively want to punch a hole through the wall - and maybe they just want to write some more music?
The vocals are good, and are best when used to shouty/moany effect (the more sincere the better), the instruments, while much more polished, work well and are used cleverly. They still manage to come together like a good band (or unit or whatever), even though you're most likely to constantly compare this to 'bubble and scrape' or 'III' or 'bakesale' or any other Sebadoh release (I've heard that it's similar to Harmacy, but I'm yet to hear that one) it will still provide what a good album should provide, even when it may feel a little boring - if possible I'd probably give it more of a 3.3.
If the title 'the Sebadoh' was an attempt to say that this is the ultimate Sebadoh album then that is misleading and if this was the expectation then the CD would likely end up straight back in the open arms of Joni Mitchell. But as a fun bit of music (that can be strip-mined for singles if you're that kind of guy) it works and if one of the songs popped up on shuffle then I would most likely listen to it - even if I couldn't remember how it went, which is the case with most of the tracks.
So 'the sebadoh' is an album that, if found for £3 of your mum's shopping money in the wrong section of that's entertainment, is worth buying.
And of course, other scenarios apply.