Material Issue – Telecommando Americano (1997): On Second Thought

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Established 1985 in Chicago, Illinois, Material Issue came to a tragic end in June 1996 when lead singer and guitarist Jim Ellison died by suicide.

No matter what the flavor of the month was, Material Issue – which also featured bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko – remained fully dedicated to producing high-octane pop rock songs bursting with hooks and harmonies as tight as the bolts on the London Bridge.

Super catchy numbers such as “Valerie Loves Me,” “What Girls Want” and a cover of the Green Pajamas’ “Kim the Waitress” cracked the Top 10 on alternative radio, while “International Pop Overthrow” – an annual festival comprised of indie artists still going strong two decades on – poached its name from the title track from the band’s debut album. Not only did Material Issue wield a weighty impact during their existence, but they continue to be championed to this day.

Telecommando Americano, Material Issue’s fourth studio album, was completed early in 1996, but it was released after Jim Ellison took his life – making for a rather bittersweet affair. The band really turns on the heat here, preening and pumping their way through each song with a heightened degree of punctuality and order.

Navigated by an aggressive beat and a shouting chorus, “Young American Freak” aims straight for the gut, and the impossibly infectious “976-LOVE” sparkles and soars with perfectly pure classic pop ingredients. Rigged with tic-tac rhythms and vocals oozing with a sharp and focused intensity, “2 Steps” struts with sure-footed conviction, and “Carousel” illuminates with melodic beauty and grace.

Then there’s the pounding punch of “Head Shop,” where “What If I Killed Your Boyfriend” and “Off the Hook” file in as other not-to-be-forgotten tunes of the rocking guitar-pop variety. But the truth is, every song on Telecommando Americano (Rykodisc) is actually fantastic. In fact, the album is so good that it could pass as a greatest-hits collection.

As a plus, Telecommando Americano contains Material Issue’s first recording, an EP that initially appeared on the Big Block label in 1987. Ringing and rolling with unlimited energy, “She’s Going Thru My Head,” “Color TV” and “Mary Spins a Rainbow” are particular picks to click on this early effort.

The term “power pop” has certainly been misrepresented over the years, but that is exactly the style of music Material Issue played. There was nothing fancy or fake about the band, and Telecommando Americano firmly validates their tireless passion for the swinging and smashing sounds.


Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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