It’s a pretty safe bet to assume that the last generation of music fans have a copy of ‘Nevermind’ - if not two or three of ‘em - somewhere in their CD racks. Even your Auntie Mary will know who Kurt Cobain was. Your cooler older sister will have had posters of the Lemonheads and Hole on her walls, and your brother probably went to see Pearl Jam a bunch of times. But of bands from that glorious early-to-mid Nineties era, Sebadoh are - if they are known at all - unfairly seen as also-rans, a minor footnote to the American-dominated pre-Britpop musical landscape. And yet they remain one of that gloirious era’s most disgracefully underrated bands, just waiting to be rediscovered like some Generation X equivalent of Tutankhamun’s treasures.
Sebadoh had been around some 8 years before releasing ‘Bakesale’, yet it was the album most likely to break them from indie obscurity to more widespread recognition (if you place importance on that sort of thing, of course). Like Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ compared to ‘Bleach’, this 1994 release was a more polished effort than their previous roughly hewn indie. Which naturally put a lot of indie snobs backs up, but for those hardier souls who loved nothing more than a big old chunky tune served up with their furiously screwed up angst, there was little to complain about. On ‘Bakesale’, Sebadoh discovered it was OK to wear their reflective, quieter, more harmonious hearts on their sleeves as well as finding time to rock out like bastards - often in the space of the same song.
‘Bakesale’ opens with ‘License To Confuse’, a manifesto for every slacker kid who ever slouched around in a pair of Converse, with a loping bass scrapping with scratchy guitars and lyrics serving as an anthem for anxious, insecure youths the globe over (“I’m not attractive today/I’m not a sight for sore eyes/I’m not an Adam & Eve/I’m just a nervous young thing”). ‘Magnet’s Coil’ ratchets up the angst a notch or two further, with the melody just bubbling under boiling point, tenser than an elastic band a nanosecond before snapping. ‘Drama Mine’ scutters to a halt halfway through, the melody literally tumbling over itself before gathering itself together again for a final eruption of manic vocals and growl of guitars, ultimately collapsing in on itself in a breathless, furious, sexy heap.
And then, almost thrown away over halfway through the album, you unexpectedly come across the blindingly bright crown jewel that is ‘Rebound’ - the track that is physically impossible to play just once. You listen to it first, unprepared. You go into uncontrolled spasms, usually accompanied by the overwhelming need to jump around the room. You can’t believe it’s over so soon, so you hit repeat again, and again. Famously, John Peel was so caught up in the brilliance of the Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ that he played it on one of his shows twice in a row. ‘Rebound’ inspires something approaching this kind of feeling with its two minutes of ultra infectious doomed euphoria being more than enough on its own to hook you into the band for life.
Sebadoh on the whole - and ‘Bakesale’ especially - are crying out for a hugely overdue rediscovery, with their lost boy vocals, beautifully chiming guitars, knockout pop hooks and and a million other reasons too. It’s pretty rare for a band to be able to write about the rawest of emotions without seeming embarrassed, gauche or awkward but the skill of Sebadoh is that they just manage to pull it off - every time - by the skin of their teeth. Their devastating honesty still grabs your attention 17 years down the line, and while ‘Bakesale’ is absolutely a snapshot of mid-Nineties US indie, it simultaneously transcends this era to become a minor classic for all time. It’s not their fault that only a relatively faithful few took any notice of them the first time around. But you’d be pretty foolish to let them slip through the net a second time.