In this age when the music industry's cash cow "anniversary" reissues are beginning to recycle albums from the 1990s, isn't it time to fete perhaps the best record released in that grunge and alt-rock besotted decade? Of course, I'm talking about the debut album by Supercharger. What, you haven't heard of Supercharger? Blasphemy!
Supercharger was a short-lived California trio which, as legend has it, took D.I.Y. to its logical extreme by recording their first album while they were learning to play their instruments. Self-releasing the self-titled debut LP on Radio X in 1991, and the follow-up Goes Way Out on Estrus in 1993, the band managed to take their raucous noise as far as a tour of Europe before imploding. Bassist Greg Lowery went on play in The Rip Offs, Zodiac Killers and the The Infections. He also formed Rip Off Records, which released a ton of entertainingly trashy punk/garage records, including both albums by Milwaukee's Kill-A-Watts, before quietly fading from view a few years ago (here's hoping the label re-surfaces for a third run). Guitarist Darin Raffaelli and drummer Karen Singletary played in The Brentwoods for awhile; Raffaelli was also a semi-svengali figure behind The Donnas during their early years, recording them for his labels and writing/co-writing many of their early songs.
As the '90s get farther in the rear view mirror, Supercharger's debut is the album from that decade that has stuck with me and continues to be returned to on a regular basis, even though -- or maybe, because -- I didn't actually first experience it when it was new. Its cheerfully sloppy sound is far fresher today than the carefully produced records by contemporary bands I actually did listen to a lot at the time growing up in rural Wisconsin (U2, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, I'm looking at you).
Indeed, Supercharger had a literally life-changing effect on me when I first heard them shortly after the turn of the century. After a smart-ass remark led to my somewhat inadvertently joining a newly forming band, only stubbornness was keeping me from bowing to inexperience and a paralyzing fear of actually singing in front of people. Supercharger came to the rescue when a band mate brought it to an early practice session. The album's low-fi sonics, lurching rhythms, shambolic singing, occasionally offensive lyrics and overall defiant crappiness were a refreshing ear-opener, and made me realize -- perhaps I can be in a band, too!
Contrary to the legend, they must have had at least a passable grasp of their instruments when they recorded Supercharger, because while the record chugs along like a Dodge with a couple bad cylinders it never falls apart. The whole thing is sort of like The Ramones reduced to the basic hooks and played by The Shags. Really, descriptions are meaningless here ... it just has to be experienced. That being said, it's likely to sound like gibberish to those who aren't predisposed to like trashy garage punk music.
Currently the easiest place to get both original Supercharger albums is directly from the source at Estrus Records -- in addition to releasing Supercharger's 1993 album, the good folks at Estrus also did a 1997 reissue of the debut with a couple bonus tracks. If you ask real nice, they may even still have a copy of the vinyl version of the second album available. Lowery also released a singles comp and live album on his Rip-Off label, and though the CD and LP versions are officially out of print, there still appears to be a few CDs out there online that haven't been snatched up by discerning listeners yet. (Radio X 1991; Estrus, 1997)