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Music Review – Material Issue – International Pop Overthrow: 20th Anniversary Edition

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With feet in both the power pop and punk fields, Material Issue blasted out of Chicago 20 years ago with their impressive debut album, International Pop Overthrow. Long out of print, Hip-O-Select has reissued this classic disc with eight bonus tracks and a great set of liner notes under the slightly longer name International Pop Overthrow: 20th Anniversary Edition.

What made Material Issue special was their infectious blend of hook laden power pop with an undercurrent of punk ferocity. This was most evident on the title track of the album. It blasts out of speakers sounding with buzzsaw guitars and Mike Zelenko pounding theMaterial Issue drums. Lead singer and songwriter Jim Ellison’s vocals swagger into focus on top of a Ted Ansani bass line which was more melodic than any punk record ever had. Ellison is singing about life in a band being a bit of a drag, but it all getting better when the lights go up and the show starts. Later, when he sings “I don’t need a girlfriend, I need an accomplice,” you understand he’s looking for more than just somebody to show on his arm. It’s a song about searching without knowing what to look for.

While the album didn’t cause a pop overthrow, it did leave us with two indelible singles that competed with the likes of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins (like Material Issue, they were from Chicago). The dark song of unrequited love, “Valerie Loves Me,” makes clear that she doesn’t no matter what Ellison sings. The other single that did well is “Diane.” These are just two of the songs on the album that have girls’ names in them, which was a high number out of the original 14 tracks.

Ellison, along with bandmates Ansani and Zelenko, created an album of infectious, hook-heavy power pop songs that have a great sing-a-long quality to them. The lyrics are smart, and slightly dark in places. Even with the focus on girls, love and its side-effects, Ellison (the songwriter) brings some different views to the topics. For example, after listing a litany of experiences that new love brings, he admits to wanting to the “Very First Lie,” which is hardly the stance of a hopeless romantic. Perhaps they are the words of a hopeful cynic who has been kicked around a bit by love. And let’s face it, during the early 90’s, not many people were singing about love or relationships in their music. The tendency towards inward looking songs had begun.

Material Issue’s fortunes faded as the 90s progressed. They sold a decent number of copies of International Pop Overthrow, with subsequent efforts not meeting those same levels with either fans or critics. Their influence however has been large. They gave power pop a new rallying point for the 90s after being out favor for many years, plus their is a music festival named after their first album that has been held in venues the world over. Band member Ted Ansani has played with his current band, The Ted Ansani Project, at the Overthrow ,along with other power pop legends like Shoes (whose Jeff Murphy was the producer of International Pop Overthrow).

This album is a fine candidate for the Hip-O-Select reissue series. Like others, it is a limited edition release, as only 5,000 will be made. The music has been remastered, and the eight bonus tracks are a nice selection of covers and original material never before released or not available to a wide audience. One of the finer covers is the Thin Lizzy classic “The Cowboy Song” which is pretty faithful to the original, Ansani’s tasteful bass underpinning the affair. The disc closes with the previously unreleased “The Girl With the Saddest Eyes” which is sure to please any fan of Material Issue.

An album that has aged well, that is nicely packaged and sounds great. That’s International Pop Overthrow: 20th Anniversary Edition, and if you’re a fan of power pop, this belongs in your collection.

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About Mark Stratton

Writer of poetry, short fiction, bad fiction, musical countdowns and stuff. He likes pie.
  • Kit O’Toole

    Being a lifelong Chicagoan, I remember Material Issue well. I still have the cassette single (yes, I’m dating myself) to “Valerie Loves Me,” an underrated tune. Ellison’s death was a tragedy. Thanks for this great review, which reminds me of what a great band they were.

  • mark Stratton

    Thanks, Kit. I somehow missed them the first time around, only discovering them a few years ago. This album is just one that sticks with me, I can hear it in the quietest of moments.*