Pop ETUDES. That’s about as euphemistic as I can get about some of these sap-buckets, like “Soul and Fire” which leads off Bubble and Scrape. Lou Barlow, I bet, KNEW that some of this stuff was about their best, like the searing honesty of “Sacred Attention,” and the unprecedentedly cool guitar sound of “Happily Divided,” so he figured he’d throw some crap in there, just so they didn’t end up pulling a Nirvana and winning VMA’s and stuff.
Sebadoh, when they’re on, are right up there with the Meat Puppets (when THEY’RE on) for my favorite straight-ahead rock outfits on the planet (Califone being more experimental/urban/folk/rock, and if that sounds oxymoronic then good, it is). But they definitely had the training wheels on for a lot of this stuff.
You can’t really compare them to Nirvana (though that would be the closest stylistic and cultural reference point), because not only are they from the east coast, but plain and simple, Barlow wasn’t a junkie. And I don’t even know anything about Barlow’s personal life, I’ve just listened to the lyrics, which are nowhere near as apocalyptic or dramatic as Kurt Cobain’s or Chris Cornell’s. They’re immediate banter for the hug and pint. You’re likely to get your a** beat saying something like “Nature is a whore” at one of those places, at least on the east coast.
And by The Sebadoh, which is supposed to be like their self-titled album, the training wheels are off: every track is impactful, and the guitar sounds channeled through a freakin’ blow-horn. But nobody’s paying attention to them by this point, they’re not young, sexy and darling. Just the way they wanted it.
Bubble and Scrape, chronologically, epitomizes their upward artistic arc. The band was a giant, capable of soothing, angular jazz-pop, pliant grunge, or just downright mischief, having FUN (“Sister”). They take the tension and prima-donna waywardness in the room and punch it in the face, or douse it with a rum and coke. It is an album composed of both “alternative” rock for older, more wizened Nirvana kids, and also crap that is too poppy to even be on MTV.
Yet, for all the dichotomous, documentable juxtaposition of good and bad, I don’t think you can divorce this stuff from its underlings and blend it into a Sebadoh “greatest hits” to make for a classic album. But maybe I’m just saying that out of Sebadoh puritanism, maybe it would actually work. The point is, it’s not even worth thinking about, it’s too entertaining already just considering how bafflingly inconsistent this band was, like a noisy suckerfish at the bottom that sucks up its own waste with some miracle corn meal mixture, and then feeds a whole village with it.