Monday, May 6, 2013

Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles (Sub Pop, 1990)

"Grunge" has to be one of the most misused terms in the history of rock journalism. Widely and erroneously applied to Pearl Jam's p.c. arena rock, Soundgarden's stoner sludge, and Alice In Chains' heart of darkness metal, "grunge" became cultural shorthand for any Seattle-based heavy rock music that was marketed to flannel clad Gen-Xers in the early '90s. It is not my intent to diminish the contributions of the aforementioned bands. I'm a fan of at least one of them. It's just that, in all honesty, they had little to do with grunge. If you want to hear what grunge was really about, listen to Mudhoney's early recordings.

If grunge can be loosely defined as a fusion of punk and metal characterized by heavily distorted guitars and popularized in the Pacific Northwest in the latter part of the '80s, its pioneers were probably the likes of Green River, The U-Men, and Skin Yard. But it was Mudhoney who took grunge to a new level of awesomeness, infusing the style with a heavy dose of the Stooges. Issued in 1990 by Sub Pop Records, Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles is the definitive compilation of Mudhoney at its fiercest and filthiest. It collects the band's first two singles as well as its 1988 debut EP. Historical significance aside, it contains some of the most raging and feral rock n' roll of its time. If you've never blasted "Touch Me, I'm Sick" at obnoxious volumes while making yourself hoarse screaming along with Mark Arm, you haven't lived!

Arm, who had been Green River's lead singer, was no doubt a founding father of grunge. And Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner was also in Green River for a while. But Mudhoney was a different band entirely - incorporating garage, blues, and lots of Raw Power worship into its flammable blend of heavy riffs and punk ferocity. And in drummer Dan Peters and bassist Matt Lukin, the band had one of the greatest rock n' roll rhythm sections ever. Jack Endino's minimalist production - a common factor in many "classic" grunge records - was an especially good fit for Mudhoney's rampageous attack. Debut single "Touch Me, I'm Sick" remains the band's defining song. And after 25 years, it's lost none of its bite (no pun intended - that drumming is sick!). Listening to these early tracks, one has to wonder why Arm is not recognized as an all-time great punk howler. His vocals are so primitive and in-your-face, and all that bad attitude and sheer depravity is a far cry from the mopey angst that people tend to associate with grunge. Whether you prefer sonic fireballs like "You Got It (Keep It Outta My Face)" and "In 'N' Out Of Grace" or thundering dirges like "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More", there's something here for anyone who yearns to hear the "Seattle sound" at its very best. And covers of the Dicks ("Hate The Police") and Sonic Youth ("Halloween") demonstrate the diversity of influences that made grunge what it was.

It was unfortunate yet not surprising that Mudhoney was left out in the cold when grunge went mainstream in the fall of 1991. There wasn't anything even remotely commercial about the band's music. And given that grunge's marketability was largely tied to the myth of an entire generation needing to feel sorry for itself, Mudhoney's caustic humor and brazen fuck-you attitude weren't exactly selling points. But the band almost certainly preferred it that way. Perfectly content with their cult following, they just kept going strong and are still at it today. They just released their ninth LP - the outstanding and still snarling Vanishing Point. Unlike most bands that start off with legendary early works, Mudhoney has never embarrassed itself or "gone soft" on its later records. There's really no such thing as a "bad" Mudhoney album. But Superfuzz Bigmuff is where it all started - a perfect introduction not just to grunge rock but also to one of the most criminally unheralded bands of all-time.

-Josh Rutledge

1 comment:

Tonypop said...

great blog, very professional reviews, i like
"you want to hear what grunge was really about, listen to Mudhoney's early recordings."

few words to define a music style....
greetings from italy