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 the 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.