Fronted by the lean, subtly mod-obsessed singer and songwriter Jim Ellison, Material Issue was a three-piece Chicago band that made a contrast to the then-prevalent Shoegazers — a depressive UK phenomenon — by way of their fun and fiery energy. They also just predated the commercial onslaught of Nirvana and grunge. Ellison wrote economical, catchy tunes, many of them named after girls (real, imagined – or abandoned). Not as punky as their contemporaries Green Day, or as laboriously hard-rocking as state-mates Cheap Trick, Material Issue not only played exuberant, in-your-face power-pop, they helped lay the groundwork for the entire Illinois indie scene.
Ellison had a reputation for being cocky and hard to get along with — not bad assets for a rocker, actually; at least image-wise (as opposed to reputation-wise). I befriended him at one point, and found Jim to be a very sweet and bright guy, although one apparently afflicted with the kind of romantic insecurity that might have led to songs like “Very Good Idea” and “What if I Killed Your Boyfriend?” Along with those, the group excelled at turbo-charged pop fodder like “Diane” and the self-explanatory “International Pop Overthrow.” Ellison’s unfortunate (and surprising to most) suicide curtailed what seemed to be a rocketing career. At their zenith, Material Issue knew how to assemble a head-to-Beatle-boots-great album, and put on a live show that was breathtaking in its energy, as fronted by wiry Ellison’s attitudinal showmanship.