Underrated Fictional Band Polaris Gets Its Due with ‘Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete: 21st Century Edition’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Polaris just may be the best band that never really existed. For those who aren’t hip to this fact, here is the backstory: way back in the 90s there was a television show called the Adventures of Pete and Pete. Balancing oddball humor and the heartfelt dynamic of two red-headed brothers growing up in suburban America, Pete and Pete was one of the last truly intelligent programs that managed to appeal to both children and their parents. One of the things that made the show so great was the music (not to mention hilarious cameos from the likes of Iggy Pop and Syd Straw, among others). Specifically, the show’s now iconic introduction, which featured a rock band playing on the front lawn of the main characters’ home. This was Polaris, a band that existed solely for the show and was composed of three out of four members of cult indie rockers Miracle Legion. Besides the introduction to Pete & Pete – a crashing, jangly garage rocker called “Hey Sandy” that carried the infectiousness of any good tv theme song – Polaris recorded an album’s worth of songs that would be used as the soundtrack for the show. And that’s all it was until a few years ago when renewed interest in Pete & Pete found music writers and nostalgia-seeking fans curiously returning to the music of Polaris, a band absolutely worthy of deeper listening and analysis.

Polaris’ lone album – simply titled Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete – has been released for twenty years now, leaving plenty of time for hardcore fans of the show or fans of front man Mark “Muggy” Mulcahy’s music to repeatedly listen to each of the album’s twelve songs. But for anyone who may have wondered if Polaris ever recorded more music during this period, the Mezzotint Label has offered something of an answer with the deluxe reissue ‘Polaris, Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete: 21st Century Edition’. Though there technically isn’t any “new” music here, the reissue comes with a second disc of demos that offers a different perspective on the timeless, poignant and quirky rock songs on the album. We get an alternate take of “The Monster’s Loose” that feels like a stripped-down fever dream of the album version, and “Coronado II” is presented as a raw guitar track with minimal vocalization. “Hey Sandy” – the best-known song – is slowed down and Mulcahy’s vocals shine as he is accompanied only by a drippy guitar track. We also get three versions of “Waiting For October,” one that sounds close to the bouncy original but with sparse production, a reverb-drenched demo with only electric guitar, and an acoustic instrumental that reminds us just how strong the band’s melodies were. There are some previously unheard nuggets too, like the carnivalesque instrumental “21st Century Space Walk,” and a collection of space exploration sound bites called “Look at the Rocket Go” that served as inspiration and were sampled on the final album. There are two demos of “As Usual” – one acoustic and one especially neat psychedelic version with drums – that remind us how heartfelt and moving the song is, while the equally moving “Ashamed of the Story I Told” finds the band playing up the New Wave synths more and layering in a stirring harmonica solo.

These days, the sheer amount of reissues can be exhausting, with many albums getting reissued multiple times as artists and labels seek to milk every dime out of an album. It’s hard to blame them, especially in the age of COVID when touring income is moot and the masses care less about discovering new bands, but reissues can still feel like a redundant cash grab. This release, however, is fitting in that the music – just like the show it was made for – never really got the full attention it deserved. For casual fans of Mark Mulcahy and even Pete & Pete, this is a worthwhile artifact to own, and for obsessives, it’s a deeper dive into the mysterious yet endlessly infectious Polaris sound. The full release includes silver vinyl, gatefold cover, lyric sheet, liner notes by Will McRobb and a demos CD to make it a true collector’s item. Ultimately, this release is another fine chapter in the legend of one of the best bands that never really existed, kind of.

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