Whatever happened to Semisonic? One minute some were considering them to be the next big thing in American rock music, and the next, well they just disappeared.
So what happened? In the mid 90s, when there was a surplus of post-grunge cash sloshing around record companies, Minneapolis power pop act Semisonic somehow found themselves signed to MCA Records. Debut album Great Divide was released in 1996 against a back drop of diverse acts all vying for attention from college radio and in 1998 “Closing Time” gained enough commercial traction for their second album, Feeling Strangely Fine, to chart, while it took a further fifteen months before “Secret Smile” was released in the UK, receiving a mass of radio play, and the album a month or so after.
Released during a time when the UK singles and album charts were a weird blend of latin flavoured music, dance pop, manufactured girl and boy bands, the last death rattle of Britpop and the odd curio from across the Atlantic, Feeling Strangely Fine and by extension, Semisonic, seemed to offer something genuine and durable in a mainstream rock type of way. The trouble is, 20 years after its initial release, Feeling Strangely Fine is one of those albums that seems perpetually trapped in a time bubble. It’s an album of earnest alt-rock-gone-mainstream, played by earnest gentlemen. That said, the songwriting is solid if not exactly spectacular, and the tunes themselves are nothing to be ashamed of, but the issue is that not much beyond the two big singles is actually that memorable. The guitars can be loud if the song calls for it, or equally the band can slip seamlessly into the unplugged soundscape. At a time when music fans wanted their rock bands to be adaptable, Semisonic could toggle between two popular sounds, which is actually more than what some bigger acts of the time could do.
Feeling Strangely Fine is one of those albums where, if the late 90s were a particularly memorable period of your life, then there’s every chance that you may have some sense of nostalgia for it. Both “Secret Smile” and “Closing Time” are remembered and loved by members of a certain generation. If however, you don’t happen to be a part of that generation, listening to it now, Feeling Strangely Fine sounds somewhat anonymous, like so much rock music released in the last two years of the last century.
Oddly enough, it was Semisonic’s follow up to Feeling Strangely Fine, 2001’s All About Chemistry, which seemed to mark them out as a band to watch for the future, as they explored a slightly purer power-pop sound, however as it didn’t feature a big hit for either side of the Atlantic, it failed to match Feeling Strangely Fine commercially, and just one obscure live album later, Semisonic’s moment had passed and no further albums were released.
If Feeling Strangely Fine is one of those albums that meant a lot to you at a certain point in your life, then the fact that it is being released on vinyl for the first time will cause you smile nostalgically. If however, you’re someone for whom the appeal of Semisonic passed by twenty years ago, then there’s nothing much on this album that will grab your attention.