Over the course of a 30-year career, the yelpy North Carolina power-pop great Superchunk have never once recorded a bad album. (Their most recent, last year’s What A Time To Be Alive, fucking slapped.) But the general consensus is that Superchunk’s best album is 1994’s Foolish, their fourth. On Foolish, Superchunk dug deep into the romantic breakup of band members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, and the sadness and tension of that rupture drove the band to new heights. Foolish turned 25 a few weeks ago, and McCaughan and Ballance remain Superchunk bandmates and Merge Records business partners. And now, they and their Superchunk bandmates have gone back and revisited Foolish — the entire thing.
Today, Superchunk released the new album Acoustic Foolish. It’s a document of the band playing the entire Foolish album, front-to-back-on acoustic instruments. They recorded it live in studio, and they got some help from their friends. Owen Pallett arranged, performed, and recorded strings on a couple of songs. Swearin’s Allison Crutchfield sang backup on “The First Part.” Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner sang backup on “Keeping Track.” Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster’s Mountain Goats bandmate Matt Douglas played saxophone on “Saving My Ticket.” And the dB’s’ Peter Holsapple played piano on two tracks. Ballance, who did the original Foolish cover art, did the art for this one, too. It’s a warm, fun, lively revisiting of an album that remains truly classic. Below, you can stream the whole thing and read what McCaughin has to say about it.
Mac McCaughan writes:
Our original idea for an all-acoustic album was for it to be a selection of songs from all our albums, played in the style of an acoustic performance in a record store or a radio station, which we have done quite a bit of over the years (and documented on the first of our “Clambake” series in 2001).
But with 2019 being the 25th anniversary of the Foolish album, it seemed weirder and more interesting to record an acoustic version of one whole album. I didn’t want this to sound like “acoustic demos recorded 25 years after the fact” or a band trying to “rock out” except on acoustic guitars, though to be fair we do some rocking out. Once we got into the process of learning how to play the songs on acoustic guitars — some of which we had never performed at all — it made sense to make this record its own thing altogether.
When Foolish came out, people kind of freaked out that all the guitar sounds weren’t as distorted as they had been, and it was treated as a radical departure from what we had been doing. Which is funny listening to the original album now because it pretty much sounds like our other records. But I started thinking about the acoustic version of the album as “what Foolish would have sounded like if it were as different as people acted like it was.” So — we have guests, we have strings, we have piano, we have a saxophone!
The songs themselves, extracted from the drama of the moment and what people wanted to write about then, are more applicable to Real Life than I thought they would be. Without the embarrassing angst of the 25-year-old, they are just songs about transitions, holding grudges or trying not to, letting go of things that aren’t healthy, moving through difficult situations and relationships and trying to be “normal” in the course of all that, even though there’s no such thing.
We are lucky to have Allison Crutchfield, Matt Douglas, Peter Holsapple, Owen Pallett, and Jenn Wasner lend their great talents to the record and also lucky that Jon has an arsenal of small bells and a vibraslap.
You can buy Acoustic Foolish at Bandcamp.