The Sebadoh

[B]'The Sebadoh'[/B] - a fine title, the equivalent of saying, "but you can call me Sir" - stands as much of a chance of setting the nation's classrooms on fire as [B]'Rockin' The Forest'[/B] did i

It was a long-haired miracle in a lilac polo-neck. When Sebadoh appeared on Top Of The Pops to play their - get this - Top 30 single 'Flame', you could sense the giant question mark hanging in the skies above Britain. It belonged to a parallel universe, where Michael Buerk would shortly announce global harmony and planetary joy, and the imaginations of overfond Lou Barlow fans reigned supreme. After that, 911 were something of an anticlimax.

Needless to say, it was a glorious aberration. 'The Sebadoh' - a fine title, the equivalent of saying, "but you can call me Sir" - stands as much of a chance of setting the nation's classrooms on fire as 'Rockin' The Forest' did in 1992. Yet it doesn't take such high-profile, water-into-wine miracles to keep Sebadoh hovering airily at the edges of transcendence, not when they have Lou Barlow to up their divinity levels. A man whose unshakeable talent for self-flagellation shows no signs of fading after seven albums, who gives the listener whiplash every time, his real gift is the avoidance of angst. Anyone can pick up a quarter of bittersweet symphonies along with their milk and paper - Lou deals with thought processes less readily available on open shelves.

You second that emotion, but cautiously, secretively. There's no cheery catharsis here, especially when his six songs on this album are all about trust and freedom, whether "wrapped up in chains" on the freakish wax-cylinder beauty of 'Flame', locked into neuroses on 'Weird On The Way' - "Paranoia's contagious, I'm coming down with it too" - or reaching for redemption on the brittle folk of 'Free'.

Although received wisdom has it that you judge a Sebadoh album through Lou's songs, it seems unfair when Jason Loewenstein has written over half of 'The Sebadoh'. Sure, 'Drag Down' and 'Bird In The Hand' go marauding around the record like a runaway Ozzy, a chemical dump of nerve-endings and adrenalin, but 'Colorblind' and 'It's All You' make it wholly plausible that Jason is Lou's wicked doppelgdnger. While Lou desperately tries to remain grown-up, remembering how he was told how, "adult relationships can be difficult, son", Jason is his stroppy inner child. They might still be divided, but it's narrowed from different planets to different sides of the brain. That definite article in the title makes perfect sense.

It would be nice to think that this was The One, yet although they can make hearts leap as high as ever, that mythical Great Leap Forward remains fantasy. "We're too old to apologise" sings Lou on 'Sorry' and, really, there's no reason why they should. Sebadoh might be set in their ways, but they're the ways of the righteous man.
8 / 10

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