Super Class is what you get when you have a musician with a lot of free time on his hands. Following constant touring as a member of Vancouver indie rock band Yukon Blonde, frontman Jeffrey Innes suddenly found himself with nothing to do while the group was between the album-tour-album cycle. Considering the phrase idle hands are the devil’s workshop, Innes wrote a bunch of songs quickly using analog synthesizers with the goal of bringing in some musician friends for a new solo recording project. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your opinion, all of his friends were busy with their respective bands touring, so Innes wound up doing most of the work himself. (Yet, Gold and Youth drummer Jeff Mitchelmore handled percussion, Louise Burns and the New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder contributed backing vocals, and Ladyhawk’s Darcy Hancock laid down guitar during the recording sessions.)
As High Ends, Innes has created an upbeat blast of pop music that doesn’t take itself very seriously. How non-serious is Super Class? Well, there’s a song about discovering the joys of cappuccino halfway through Innes’ life. “If Jimmy Buffet can write a song about cheeseburgers, I can write a song about coffee,” he says by way of a press release. To that end, Super Class offers good times, even if its second half is a little more lopsided than the first. However, anyone looking for fun is destined to find something that they will like here.
The first half of Super Class is full of stellar stuff, as opener “Downtown” starts out with a vintage drum machine and keyboards giving way to stiff rock, sounding remarkably a lot like fellow Canadian Rich Aucoin in some respects. “The Weight” (not a cover of the song by the Band) is sunny pop perfection, and sounds as though it got transmuted in from the ’80s. So reverential in sound it is, you can practically imagine it being done by a retro cover band. “Intoxicated” is a tongue-in-cheek tune (“When I’m intoxicated I love you / Everything you do I’m addicted to you”), which is one of two “drinking” songs on the album. (Well, if you consider “Cappuccino” a drinking song.) “I’m Gonna Keep on Dancing” has Simple Minds-esque keyboards thudding and pulsating. And then you get “Cappuccino” – “Oh cappuccino / How did I go half my life? / Because it’s sooooo / Oh cappuccino / Show me a world without you / And I’ll show you a world about heartbreak.” So, yeah, High Ends has a sense of the humorous, or the very silly. You just can’t take Super Class too gravely, and that’s all a part of the charm.
However, things go on a slight downward spiral from there. “The Believer” is a good song, and it wouldn’t be out of place on a New Pornographers album, but, after that, you get “River Cruise”, which is just a drum machine ticking away while some garish keyboards are laid on top of it. It’s essentially instrumental filler to pad the album out. However, things uptick with the bright and jangly “Ocean Song”, which is glorious with its repetitive guitar strum. Kind of Tom Petty-ish if you ask me. However, as good as the track is, you do get a sense of Innes going through the motions a bit, and it does stick out a bit on an otherwise keyboard-oriented pop album. “Feel / Sleep / Aliens” is nothing to write home about, as it repeats the trick of just keyboards and drum machine ticks, just this time with vocals. It’s more atmosphere than pop, and, again, it just doesn’t seem to belong. The record ends with the rocking “Working Man’s Blues”, which is an outright rock song on a pop album, so, yet once more, you’re left with the impression “just what is this doing here?” Yet, there’s a nice turn of phrase in the transition from a verse to the chorus: “Marriage is everything when you get hitched / Then you discover she’s a … I don’t want to work.” It reminds me of a similar stunt pulled on the novelty song “Shaving Cream”, where each verse ends on a mind rhyme of the word shit, but instead segues into the refrain. Anyhow, it’s a good touch.
So, all in all, Super Class is highly engaging, but it does have its share of duds and stuff that doesn’t seem to congeal well with the rest of the material, though that might not be a huge surprise given the nature of the way that the LP was made. Despite that, it’s still a boatload of fun. The record is very off-the-cuff in feel, and Innes is clearly having a blast while making this. Super Class isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to win any major awards, but you’ll probably wind up liking it anyway in spite of yourself. If you’re downtrodden or bitter, put on this album: it’s almost guaranteed to pick you up. And that might just be the best thing about it. It’s a record that you can largely dance to, and I’ll bet that when Innes tours behind this (he did a brief jaunt of Canada in late September and early October behind the album with more dates expected to follow) people are going to have a whale of a time. You need that. That’s important, especially in this crazy world where people are pushing pencils well past the nine-to-five grind (which is a recipe for a heart attack in my book) and just aren’t taking pleasure in themselves. So while High Ends may not be High Class, who cares? Super Class is like a good book: something you can get lost in for awhile and escape the drudgery of life. Not a bad accomplishment, especially for a guy with a little too much time on his hands. So enjoy! This is a record to be entertained by, nothing more or nothing less. And, ultimately, everyone needs that from time to time.