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The Embarrassment

My Pal God

From 1979 to 1983, the Wichita, Kan., band the Embarrassment had an urge, had a surge, and was uncontrollable. Though it was during a time when TBS’s Night Tracks was the main forum for rock music-videos—and well before “alternative nation” was a doodled logo inside some future MTV exec’s Algebra II textbook—the Embarrassment was out on the road doing its part to give the New Wave kids in America something to pogo about. The band toured relentlessly during each of its four glory years, wowing crowds with a buzzing set list of three-minute masterpieces that paved the way for the likes of Violent Femmes, Hüsker Dü, and, a little later, Superchunk, the Embarrassment’s most obvious musical progeny. Intermittent gigs in the band’s hometown led to a fine reunion album in 1990 (God Help Us), but the group has mostly been preserved for posterity by lovingly assembled and copiously annotated anthologies. The massive and accurately titled double-disc set Heyday is required listening for students of early indie rock, collecting nearly every one of the band’s official releases. The new Blister Pop is a worthy companion piece, featuring a Grade A cache of live tracks, rough-hewn demos, and the covers that were staples of the band’s legendary shows. Those interpretations are Blister Pop’s real revelations: An organ-drenched version of the Seeds’ classic “Pushin’ Too Hard” is pure third-encore bliss, a take on “Oh Pretty Woman” makes Van Halen’s cover sound even more irrelevant, and a herky-jerky rendition of “Time Has Come Today” has less in common with the Chambers Brothers’ woozy hippie anthem than it does with Devo’s robotic rhythms. Even at its most marginal, the Embarrassment made compelling guitar pop out of a different kind of Midwestern tension; the group was bored but familiar with the pleasures of boredom, too. Blister Pop captures that paradox as well as the band’s nervously twitching energy, providing an incendiary set of footnotes to Heyday’s standard edition. —Shannon Zimmerman