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Rawk And A Hard Place.

By Stephen Seigel

MAY 24, 1999:  In the late '80s and early 1990s, the college burg of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, was a burgeoning rock mecca. Soon-to-be punk legends the Didgits and Titanic Love Affair--featuring the talents of current Wilco member Jay Bennett--played the hometown clubs on a regular basis, along with a slew of other promising bands: Hot Glue Gun, Hum, Lonely Trailer and Honcho Overload among them. But the one band that everyone involved in the C-U scene knew was gonna go places was the Poster Children.

They were the best live band of the bunch, and they combined the big rawk sound with undeniable hooks. And while a lot of the bands from the area relocated to bigger markets at the first taste of success (the Didgits moved to Chicago, and Titanic Love Affair to Minneapolis), the Poster Kids, as they were affectionately called, stuck around Champaign and did things their own way.

Having released two seminal albums by 1991 (1989's Flower Plower (Limited Potential) and 1991's Daisy Chain Reaction (Twin/Tone)), the major labels hunted them down in C-U during the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy.

Their first release on Sire/Reprise was 1993's not-so-subtly-titled Tool of the Man, a worthy addition to their canon that maintained the quirky stop/start verses and soaring, high energy choruses, but with better production values than their previous releases. As payback, they founded local label 12 Inch Records--originally a singles-only label (seven inches, that is)--and released early works by such Champaign stalwarts as Love Cup, Hum and Steakdaddy 6 before delving into full-lengths. Then things got a little shaky with their own output.

The next three releases for Sire--the Just Like You EP (1994), Junior Citizen (1995), and RTFM (1997)--saw the band abandon much of its original sound for the catchy alterna-anthems all over "new rock" radio at the time. The move didn't win many new fans, and probably alienated a few die-hards. An agreement (or disagreement?) was made with the giant label, and the Poster Kids were let out of their contract.

This is the order of the day, folks. After Nirvana hit, major labels everywhere were clamoring for the Next Big Thing. The problem was that there was only one Nirvana, and the bands signed in the aftermath couldn't possibly sell the number of records expected of them. The end result is that we're still witnessing volumes of bands signed during that period being dropped from their respective labels (Mudhoney for one, recently dropped from Reprise).

But here's the ultimate irony: those bands that have stuck it out all these years, long enough to have survived being dropped from a major, are now reappearing on the indies where it all began; and in the process, they're putting out some of their best work in years. Witness Frank Black, whose last two albums on New York indie SpinArt represent his best work since leaving the Pixies.

And now, SpinArt's newest signees, the Poster Children, are reclaiming territory they first staked out 11 years ago. Their new release, New World Record, is the best thing they've put out since 1993's Tool, and they've somewhat reinvented themselves in the process.

They're even, uh, "poster children" for bands dropped from their cash-cow majors: foreseeing the day they'd be in a position to once again do things themselves, they wisely invested their corporate dollars in building a computerized home studio. The result is an album that gets closest to the ferocious energy the band generates on stage.

And their music continues to grow in unexpected directions. Among the cuts eking out new territory are the manic, march-like album opener "Accident Waiting to Happen"; the funky, Devo-esque "Time to Kill"; and dark "Mr. Goodnight," with a rhythm that recalls Echo and the Bunnymen's "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo." As if a fabulous new record isn't enough, the NWR disc is loaded with candy for your computer: screensavers, videos, even a video game. If you're a fan who's passed by the Poster Children bin for a while, this is the place to pick up where you left off.

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