Eric Hutchinson
Class of ’98
Let’s Break Records

Eric Hutchinson has resurfaced with his new album, a nod back to 1998, the year he graduated high school.  As such, it’s a 90s revivalist album.  I am usually deeply sceptical of such ideas, but, well, this works.

The album opens with ‘Rock Out Tonight,’ where over a Weezer-esque track, Hutchinson offers to pick us up in his Ford Taurus if we wanna rock out.  Between the guitars, his vocals, and the melodies, this really does hearken back to Weezer’s legendary Blue Album.  I had a complicated relationship with that one, as it took me more than a few listens to warm up to it.  Of course, now listening to a purposefully 90s revivalist album, well, I feel old.  But this is a pretty damn good track.

The second track, ‘Cooler Than You’ perhaps will speak to all of us who were bullied, mocked, and picked on in high school.  As Hutchinson comes to the realization that he is cooler than the guy who used to pick on him. There was a point when I was in my early 20s and I saw the guy who used to pick on me in high school, and I realized that was the highlight of his life, he had peaked in Grade 11.  Hutchinson describes the scene perfectly, how the bully has the attention of all the girls, but their eyes look more than a little bored, as if Biff’s performance is even getting stale when we’re all of 17.   But this is the realization, that as adults, we realized our bullies were really just insecure losers.  And then we also realize that as much as it sucked, and how alone we felt when we were terrorized and traumatized by these bullies when we were kids, it was really such a common experience.  Almost everyone has been bullied.  Even my bully, I won’t name him, but I also went to elementary school with him, and I remember him being bullied by older students.  Ugh.

Class of ’98 is full of these feel-good odes to teenagerdom, or at least as filtered through the eyes of a 40-year old man.  It is a conscious attempt to return to his roots, so to speak, with heavier music and more akin to what he listened to when he was a teenager.  And he also had this realization last year that he kept daydreaming about high school.  All those adolescent dreams, hopes, fears, anxieties and those emotions (!) keep flooding back and he felt as if he had been taken over by his teenaged self.  And having had the quintessential suburban North American upbringing in Maryland, all of this is familiar territory to many people.  And so now, as he approaches middle age, Hutchinson is ready to deal with with all, and so Class of ’98 is a semi-autobiographical album.  Hutchinson reports: ‘It took me a long time to understand myself. Writing this record allowed me to get into the time machine and go back and look around my old life and report from my current point of view. That was fun.’  And he also came to the realization that nostalgia is real: ‘I like the 90s way better when I’m not living in them.’ Sounds about right.

Hutchinson is famous more for other music forms, though he is a shapeshifter, having most recently explored music genres like Americana, soul, and jazz.  He is joined on this album by former Soul Asylum guitarist, Justin Sharbono, and the album was mixed by the legendary Paul Q. Kolderie, who mixed so many of my favourite 90s albums from the likes of Buffalo Tom, Pixies, The Lemonheads.

So drawing on the likes of Weezer, Green Day, and so on, and with a pretty damn good band behind him, Hutchinson traverses all the bullshit and trials and tribulations of teenagerdom.  Some of this is downright funny from the perspective of adulthood.  Take, for example, the song ‘Ann Marie,’ about a girl that his character in this song considers his best friend, though she doesn’t see him that way, especially since she’s dating Matthew Vanderwhite, a good buddy of Hutchinson’s.  It’s that classic song of pining for a love that one can never have. The song is constructed as a 90s alt.rock power ballad.

We have already featured ‘Good Things Come,’ which he originally saw the song as the advice or words of wisdom he needed when was graduating high school, he sees it in a new light given the Covid-19 pandemic which, amongst other things, pushed back the release of Class of 98 from March to June.  At any rate, he also sees this song as a send off for all the high school seniors who won’t get to walk across a stage to get their diploma, as they graduate into scary times.

Like I said, I’m usually sceptical of obvious attempts at nostalgia, purposefully reconstructed music to recall, in particular, our youth.  And yet, Hutchinson’s flat out skill as a songwriter allows him to pull it off, as does the input of both Scarbono and Kolderie.  This is a wonderful, fun romp through 90s alt.rock.