In Rock

The Minus 5

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In Rock Review

by Mark Deming

No one knows just what would happen if Scott McCaughey happened to have a few weeks to himself with nothing to do musically, largely because he seems determined to prevent that from ever happening. An example: in January 2000, while McCaughey was waiting out the delays that postponed the release of the Minus 5/Young Fresh Fellows split album Let the War Against Music Begin, he got word that the much-loved Chicago venue Lounge Ax was going to close, and he joined the parade of artists who took to their stage during the club's final weeks. Since the "real" Minus 5 lineup couldn't make the trip, McCaughey persuaded his pals in Wilco to back him up, and on-stage they plowed through a set of new songs he wrote for the occasion without a single rehearsal. Following this baptism of fire, McCaughey decided the tunes merited another chance with the more traditional Minus 5 lineup, and so on March 13, 2000, he rolled into a recording studio with Peter Buck, John Ramberg, and Bill Rieflin, and bashed ten of his Lounge Ax tunes onto tape. McCaughey called the results In Rock, and a limited edition of 1,000 copies were sold at Minus 5 gigs over the next few months. Fast-forward to the fall of 2003: in yet another moment that demanded to be filled, McCaughey decided the album deserved a broader audience than record collector geeks who were scrambling for the now-rare disc, and after clipping off two tunes he added four more (recorded with the help of his longtime collaborator Kurt Bloch) and handed the new and improved version of In Rock to the good people at Yep Roc for widespread dissemination. And for a project put together in the amount of time a negligent freshman puts into a term paper, In Rock sounds pretty darned satisfying; McCaughey has been writing smart, funny, and full-bodied pop/rock tunes since 1984, and In Rock makes it clear he's only gotten better at it with the passage of time, and the various assemblages of friends and acquaintances who help make 'em fly on this album take his life's mission as gloriously unseriously as he does. If not quite a single-day masterpiece in the manner of White Light/White Heat or Please Please Me, the Minus 5's In Rock makes a real virtue of its casual incubation period, and manages to be both tight and loose just when it needs to be.

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