Lou Barlow was a real dick when Sebadoh III hit the streets way back in 1991. It’s overwhelmingly apparent in the jerky chords and vindictive prowess of opener “The Freed Pig,” but it wasn’t out without warrant. Barlow was the guy you loved to hate – the same psycho guy who dated your girlfriend right before you started dating her and now exists for the sole purpose of psychological torment. III was such a huge and coherent departure from the self-congratulating noise that preceded it on The Freed Man and Weed Forestin' that the record became a landmark not only for Sebadoh, but for indie rock at large. Fueling self-reliance with self-indulgence became the battle cry for the homemade indie rock ‘90s and Sebadoh was on the frontline. Everyone from Pavement to Guided by Voices to Superchunk owes Barlow and Co. a huge debt for clearing the path.
These songs feature the classic Sebadoh line-up of Eric Gaffney (drums / guitar) and Jason Lowenstein (drums / guitar), which is a nice look at the group’s first real configuration as a solid songwriting unit, and it is legitimately worthy of a second look after all these years. Sure Sebadoh went on to do much bigger and better things, but III captures a pivotal point where Barlow’s brash attempts at hiding his insecurities mingle with songwriting input from Gaffney and Lowenstein, forging a very beautiful partnership. Chemistry is bubbling and turning in this jumble of words and tones and a definite pattern was starting to take shape. This is the first step in a captivating new direction that bridges the viral parts of Barlow’s bouts with Dinosaur Jr. with a refined noise-folk- personality. Not to mention that a song like “Kath” or the frazzled rendition of the Minutemen’s “Sickles and Hammers” are absolutely stunning even when freed from the thick white tape fuzz; serving as a reminder of what made Sebadoh appealing in the first place.
This remastered reissue lifts the fog, revealing that as much quaint charm shoddy recording gave to mantras, like “Wonderful, Wonderful,” “Supernatural Force" and "Renaissance Man” there is some genuinely great songwriting hiding in the haze.
In later years Barlow publicly expressed some grievances with the lo-fi image of the band, but back then that’s all he could afford. So from the ear of the beholder the main fear going in to this cleaned up reissue is that he would have gone back and performed some unholy George Lucas-style pillage of the tapes, and botched them up to sickening degrees. But thankfully that is most certainly not the case. The remaster job only highlights those lyrical nuances, and shifts in sound quality to flesh out what’s already there. At moments, such as the openign riff of "Thee Freed Pig" the improvements pack a hell of a wallup. But when the record reaches it's stride it the pace and fidelty just feel natural.
The second disc, on the other hand is not so much a critical revisit to the obscure tidbits, but a document for collectors and musical archaeologists. The much lauded, though better left forgotten Gimmie Indie Rock 7” comes off sounding like a Budweiser commercial. Likewise, the slacker jeer in “Showtape ‘91” is a staunch reminder that yes indeed Barlow was a real dick back the good old days. But that's alright. Everything feels like a release... Thereapy after fired from Dinosaur Jr.
There’s a reason why these kind of inside jokes, idiocy and awkwardness never wound up on any proper albums. Only Barlow obsessives could find the patience to endure what up until now had existed as throw away cuts. If you're one of those suckers bought the 7” on e-Bay for $30, it’s nice to have these songs on CD, so you can stop man-handling your colored vinyl. But the second disc definitely takes a back seat to the essential listen that is Sebadoh III.