Record rereleases can be a tricky concept to justify. In some cases there are the bands and record labels purely aiming to cash in on a renewed interest in an act’s music, resurgence of genre or a reunion tour that features no new material. Yet there are also certain circumstances that incite a real need for a rerelease. Sebadoh’s 1994 fifth release Bakesale is one such album.
Buried beneath the more high-profile musical happenings of the time – Nirvana’s imminent rise and crushing demise for one – and despite achieving relative success, Sebadoh never reached the heights of recognition that they rightly deserved. Seventeen years after Bakesale’s original release, there is a valid sense that the slowly trickled rerelease of Sebadoh’s back catalogue, naturally delivered in their original order, are forgotten gems that deserve to be showcased to both a new audience and also those who may have overlooked the band the first time around.
Whereas the band’s material prior to Bakesale was an eclectic mixture of lo-fi fuzziness, free-flowing experimentation and reluctance of structure, and with their third album Sebadoh III being a primarily acoustic affair, Bakesale saw Sebadoh approach their songs with a new sense of sequence and fluency that also saw all three members become individual songwriters. What made Bakesale their seminal album was, in part, due to the reshuffle of members that saw founding drummer Eric Gaffney replaced by Bob Fay who joined Jason Lowenstein and Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow to create Sebadoh’s first commercially successful album. Although Bakesale showed off a new direction towards a more polished production and clearer sound quality it certainly did not abandon the simplicity and delightful homegrown sounds that had permeated the band’s prior musical endeavours. And although this new version may be remastered the album loses none of its iconic low-cost minimal charm and as a result the album remains a distinct product of its time.
The elements of crackling distortion that wash over the entire record is displayed immediately with opener ‘License To Confuse’. The track also sets the narrative tone of teen angst and bewilderment, manifested in its title and also littered in lyrics that are strewn across the tracklisting. The opening sentiment of “I’m not attractive today / I’m not a sight for sore eyes / I’m not an Adam or Eve / I’m just a nervous young thing” shows this teen despondency accurately, while the “confused” narrative is later continued with the record’s centrepiece ‘Rebound’ – one of the most anthemic tracks on the record – and its repetitive refrain of “confusion turns me upside down” alongside relentless energy that drives the momentum forward.
One of the record’s strengths is its varying dynamics, changes of pace and the natural ebb and flow of its structure. After three songs of raw noise in the form of ‘License To Confuse’, ‘Careful’ and ‘Magnet’s Coil’ comes ‘Not A Friend’ and with it Barlow’s first chance to demonstrate a softer slice of song writing. Lowenstein’s own opportunity comes on subsequent track ‘Not Too Amused’ its grungey beginnings and progressively volatile lyrics encapsulating the entire record. ‘Shit Soup’ is another chance for Sebadoh to tackle the grunge genre, with elements of distortion that translate well onto the clearer, remastered version of the track. ‘Temptation Tide’ makes way for Fay to take the reins and despite his recent integration into the band, he firmly places his own mark on the recording with the inclusion of the contrasting female vocals from his partner Anne Slinn.
With so many tracks that are completely individual – both structurally and melodically – and each deeply personal to each of their authors, it is hard to pick any particular songs as standouts, however ‘Dream’ glistens it its unusual composition and the fact that it contains string orchestration. Conversely the simplicity of songs such as ‘Skull’ demonstrates the band’s innate ability to produce wonderfully minimal songs with clean melodies, which when welded together with layers of honest, real-life lyrics that sit surprisingly comfortably alongside the fantastical, Marijuana-induced lyrical imagery of “chasing dragons”, accumulate in a record that displays both reflections of reality and dreamy hazes.
The album ends with ‘Together And Alone’ and once again the concept of confusion is reintroduced, with the heartbreaking lyrics “And this confusion wears me down” rendering the theme full circle. Yet despite this apparent need to focus on the individual songwriters’ inner turbulence, what Sebadoh actually created with this album was not a record that echoed its narrative state of confusion, but rather one with a sense of clarity and fluidity that was previously unseen up until this point in the band’s career and as the track ends on a suitably soft, fuzz-covered note there’s a subtle aura of closure.
What makes this particular Bakesale release even more relevant, and more of a treasure for long-term fans that already own the original, is the bonus material – an extra disc that contains 25 tracks that include all the singles, EPs and rarities from the Bakesale era. These, when paired up with the 15 original songs, all distinctly different in their sound, make for a package that contains a renewed sense of revival towards what made Sebadoh so brilliant the first time around.
Seventeen years after its original release date the album and its collection of songs about heartbreak, the angst of youth and frustration seem as relevant now as they did back in the early 90s. The numerous lyrical perplexities such as “somehow I don’t trust you/ I don’t trust myself” and “I don’t need to sleep or eat, I smoke a thousand cigarettes” are as much self-deprecating mantras for today’s youth as they were two decades ago. Although Bakesale never became, nor will become, the classic institution that Nirvana’s Nevermind emerged as in terms of defining its era, the rerelease of Bakesale is sure to shine the spotlight back onto Sebadoh and in turn pick up a mass of new fans along the way.