Release Date: Apr 2, 2013
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Grunge, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Garage Punk, Indie Rock, American Underground
Ya know, it woulda just been easier on everyone had Mudhoney broken up after My Brother the Cow. Here’s how the last 18 years should’ve happened… After having seen a ray of mainstream light with Piece of Cake released on Reprise, they put out My Brother… to high expectations only to find that radio and audiences weren’t receptive to them. Piece of Cake was, therefore, a flash in the pan, a breadcrumb of success.
The release of Mudhoney’s ninth studio album might coincide with the 25th anniversary of both the band and Sub Pop, the label that put out their first ever record back in 1989, but its 10 sneering, snarling, snotty songs could easily have been written at the start of their career. Boisterous, belligerent and rebellious, Vanishing Point is the sound – and a loud, vicious, nasty swirl of sound at that – of a band still kicking against the pricks; raw and unrefined, it has as much energy and attitude as any of their previous albums. In fact, there’s an extra dose of nihilistic cynicism to be found in the likes of Sing This Song Of Joy, I Don’t Remember You and the raised middle finger of closer Douchebags On Parade.
There’s a brilliant paradox about Mudhoney, that a band so caustic and cynical can be so oddly comforting. The seasons come and go, technology evolves, Presidents rise and fall, pop music is ripped apart, reinvented, ruined and resurrected, the world turns but Mudhoney remain, laughing at everyone else's expense and outlasting them all. Like close cousins the Melvins, Mark Arm and co changed the world in a second-hand sort of way, playing John the Baptist to Nirvana’s JC, being the darlings of the Sub Pop first wave and then being left behind as various Grunge behemoths pushed forward without them and imploded.
Putting the fun in grunge since 1988, Mudhoney drink from the familiar well of Iggy on their ninth album with outrageously enjoyable results. In total command of their combination of punishing rock and loveable looseness, ‘Vanishing Point’ often sounds like the last blast of a 72-hour Hold Steady jam. Drummer Dan Peters is the most impressive, providing a firework display of barely contained rolls and crashes.
Growing up gracefully would seem to be a contradiction for a band as cheerfully vulgar as Mudhoney, but there's no mistaking that the members of the quintessential Seattle quartet are comfortable within their own skins. They know what they are, they know they're not gonna change their stripes, not even as they glare at middle age right in the face. If anything, they revel in being crotchety old gits on 2013's Vanishing Point, pledging allegiance to garage punk, dropping references to long-gone pop culture phenomena, happy to wallow in their misanthropy.
When Mark Arm and Steve Turner formed Mudhoney out of the ashes of Green River in 1988, it seemed utterly inconceivable that the band would still be together making music 25 years later. The early years of Mudhoney were coloured by chaotic aggression and a wilful disregard for both their own safety and any notion of fitting into a music industry establishment. In conjunction with the nascent Seattle label Sub Pop, whose rise grew in tandem with their flagship band, Mudhoney blazed a trial for Nirvana and the entire grunge movement to follow.
Outside of a brief period in the early 1990s, Mudhoney has never been fashionable. And this has been entirely by design-- except for the early 90s part, which the band probably would have rather avoided. When Mudhoney was given a plum spot next to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden on the Singles soundtrack-- the Saturday Night Fever of alt-rock-- it dropped a stinkbomb inside Seattle’s coronation as rock’s “it” city: “Overblown” opened with Mark Arm famously snarling, “Everybody loves us/ Everybody loves our town / That's why I'm thinkin' lately/ Time for leavin' is now.” On the new Vanishing Point, Arm is still playing the cranky contrarian, only now he has two extra decades of pent-up pissiness to vent at wannabe ballers.
Mudhoney were not supposed to last until 2013. Lead singer Mark Arm admitted that, looking back, they were supposed to record just one single then go their separate ways. They were just four friends deep in the trenches of the ‘80s Seattle punk scene not really looking to fit in anywhere. Twenty five years later, that’s still kind of what they are, albeit with kids and day jobs.
The story goes that in the early days of Sub Pop, they would decide whether or not to sign an act by watching them perform live. If the bands put on an impressive show, then Sub Pop would sign them up. Signing loads of exciting bands means your label starts producing loads of exciting music, and few can match Mudhoney. Take that “WOOOOOOOW!” from the start of Touch Me I’m Sick; how cool is that when it’s bursting out of your speakers at far too loud a volume? When you see a new Mudhoney release, you expect guitars covered in sludge that thrill you while an avalanche of drums crash around in the background.
Mudhoney have always thrived on challenges: living up to their members' musical legacy, remaining true to themselves in the face of mainstream success or staying relevant when perceived as well past their prime. Vanishing Point (the band's latest and fourth album since their 2002 return) feels like the first Mudhoney record that fails to challenge the group. Acceptance rules the roost — this is what Mudhoney sound like, no more, no less.
Every good boy deserves, in addition to fudge, the chance to live next door to a garage band like Mudhoney. Fate, however, opted to slot me alongside feckless country club offspring with Guitar Hero-caliber chops; an endless arsenal of zero-chord songs about some hussy named Lisa (lyrically immortalized as “a real bitch with a capital ITCH”); and a fondness for early-morning jams replete with hollered implorations of “Take it away, Brad!” Mercifully, around this time, a brave little copy of Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles managed to negotiate the intimidating expanse between Seattle and my native Pittsburgh. All it took was the first plagued wail of “Touch Me I’m Sick”, and I had my rightful garage band, one that gigged the cozy confines of my bedroom while always respecting my sleeping schedule.
Grunge originators show zero signs of mellowing. Ben Myers 2013 It’s 25 years since Mark Arm and Steve Turner decided to call their new band Mudhoney. At almost the exact same time, fanzine writer Bruce Pavitt and his friend Jonathan Poneman gave up their day jobs to run their brand new label Sub Pop full-time. Since then band and label have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship that’s spawned a movement, seen Mudhoney depart for a major label, and then return.
Time was that you'd hardly expect Mudhoney to last until the end of the year, yet here they are, these fine purveyors of snot-nosed garage rock, about to celebrate their quarter of a century. Of all the bands to have emerged from the Pacific Northwest at the arse end of the 80s who, in all seriousness, would have bet on Mudhoney being the ones to have made it so far? After all, this was the brashest and most juvenile band on the block but, just as importantly, they were the most fun. Not for them soul-searching, chest-beating or self-flagellation, Mudhoney were – and remain defiantly so – the aural equivalent of mooning to the Queen or dropping a cheekily squeezed fart in a packed lift with little more than a barely contained smirk by way of an apology.
Having ‘legendary’ status conferred onto your band is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand you are given a leeway in your output which a new or less well established act would never enjoy, but conversely there can be a paralysing pressure to live up to expectations which the newbies never suffer from. Mudhoney are about as legendary as it comes, the veteran Seattle grungers from the Nirvana glory days will long be remembered for ‘Super Fuzz Big Muff’ and their primal ‘TOUCH ME I’M SICK’ refrain but 25 years on, have they still got anything of any relevance to say?The short answer, in truth, is no.