Given the time (the '80s) and place (Seattle, Washington) in which their career took place, it's not surprising that the U-Men are widely acknowledged as important but little heard precursors to the nascent grunge movement. However, a listen to the group's music quickly reveals the flaw in this bit of conventional wisdom -- they didn't sound at all like a grunge band. The U-Men lacked the allegiance to heavy rock that was at the foundation of grunge pioneers like Green River, the Melvins, and Soundgarden, and the wiry attack of their guitars was designed to slice, not to bludgeon.
If Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt had had their way, this would not be the first U-Men release on Sub Pop Records. According to U-Men drummer and co-founder Charlie Ryan, the label did nothing less than beg his group to join their roster. "They'd say, 'You guys gotta get on our label!" Ryan recalls in the 2011 grunge oral history Everybody Loves Our Town.
A few years before some provincial Pacific Northwest punks decided that Aerosmith rocked and ruled roughly as much as Black Flag, deigned to commit the scurrilous act of combining those two inputs, and eventually went on to worldwide stardom for said efforts, Seattle had U-Men. A different (if not altogether separate) beast from the Seattle grunge to come, U-Men's garbled, rockabilly-damaged art punk was nonetheless one of the Seattle scene's first great unifiers, bringing together the town's pasty goths, college radio dweebs, and skate punk creeps (among others) perhaps for the first time. Beefheart, The Cramps, and Pere Ubu are clear forerunners, and even more common ground is trodden by The Birthday Party and Texan peers Scratch Acid, but there's also an element of U-Men's mania which uniquely reflects their water-damaged home base, and which serves to make them a distinctive pleasure.