1991 will always be remembered in musical history as the year that grunge and alternative broke. With all of that angst in the air, who would have guessed that 1991 would also produce three of the best power pop albums ever recorded in Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, and Material Issue’s International Pop Overthrow (you can see my Blast from the Past posts for the two other records here and here).
Material Issue was a three-piece band hailing from
. Their debut album, International Pop Overthrow, garnered them a cult following but sadly they never achieved mainstream success, despite the fact that their first three albums were all stacked top-to-bottom with extremely solid and catchy songs. I’m sure part of their lack of success can be blamed on their label (Mercury Records) for just not knowing how to market the band. Now to be fair, if you’ve ever seen pictures of the band they were obviously a trio of misfits so trying to convince the masses, that were already expecting their rock stars to be beautiful, to give Material Issue a chance. And again let’s be real here…how often have the masses truly embraced quirky artists? Well the masses loss was the underground’s gain. Sonically International Pop Overthrow is catchy, traditional power pop ala Cheap Trick, Big Star, and The Smithereens. Lyrically the songs also deal with traditional power pop subjects – love, girls, life, and the glories of pop music. While the topics are traditional, the execution is quirky and vibrant. Songs like “Renee Remains the Same,” “Crazy,” “Diane,” “Valerie Loves Me,” and the title track hit you with familiarity yet make your eyebrow raise like Spock after hearing one of Kirk’s crazy anecdotes. The other great thing about these songs is that they have a timeless feel to them. That having been said, the cover and band photos on the album are staunchly early ‘90s (just take a look at Jim Ellison’s killer bowl cut and Ted Ansani’s bangs…oh how those pictures remind me of high school). Chicago, IL
Sadly Material Issue isn’t one of the classic ‘90s alternative bands that will be reuniting as part of this decade’s ‘90s nostalgia. Lead singer, guitarist, and song writer Jim Ellison took his own life on June 20, 1996. The world lost a great voice with the passing of Ellison. Thankfully we still have Material Issue’s records to enjoy for years to come.
And just for fun here is the video of the live performance that was my introduction to Material Issue, “Diane” live at MTV Spring Break 1991.