Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Velvet Elvis - s/t (Enigma, 1988)

Somewhere in an obscure corner at a Tidewater Virginia-area thrift store, a dusty copy of this modern rock shaving from BACK IN THE DAY (TM) is marked by a two-dollar price tag and an old Post-it Note from an ahead-of-the-curve WODU disc jockey. Pop-packed sounds from the Lexington, KY, combo would've paced five-on-four power plays during hallway hockey battles inside the dormitories of the Hampton Blvd.-based campus. On second thought, maybe the above scenario is merely a product of collegiate utopias seen on episodes of "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "21 Jump Street." Like other releases I've discussed on Da Sheetz, I used to spot Velvet Elvis' self-titled selection in bargain bins at Tracks, Mother's and Volume CD Exchange with regularity throughout the 1990s. Don't know why I consistently passed on the offering, for it would've been a minimal risk to snag a cheap cassette version for my ever-growing archives. At FYE's 40% off liquidation sale about a month ago, VE presented itself in front of the assorted "V" section. Though the adjusted cost rang up at $2.40 before sales tax, I experienced the usual hesitancy surrounding the disc. Fortunately, a longtime FYE employee (and a personal friend) was able to squash my indecisiveness once and for all. Melissa had owned a Velvet Elvis 7-inch single, thus she was comfortable with describing their M.O. and recommending the purchase. I had entered the former Planet Music that Sunday afternoon with the goal of obtaining Hoodoo Gurus' Purity Of Essence and The Smithereens' 2011 at a cut rate. Who knew that the third choice in the bag would become my favorite one of the trio?

Befitting the biggest Cadbury egg in producer Mitch Easter's basket, "Take It If You Want It" is filled with the familiar jangle-folk yolk of earlier treats. The sugary sweetness of its chocolate shell, however, fails to enrich a belated Valentine's Day gift ("I'd give you my heart, but you'd only laugh"). A make-up present of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' Playback box set stomps all over the thoughtless candy container from Walgreens. Should you and yours become displaced at a packed-to-the-rafters TP gig, key lines in "I Got Everything" will prove helpful in the reunion ("If I should see you in a crowd/Don't be afraid to cry out loud"). Your girlfriend's "Ambition" is driven by the type-A personalities projecting from her Toyota's tape deck (The Plimsouls and The Replacements, in this case). By comparison, getting up to rewind side-A of Pleased To Meet Me is a lofty achievement for you ("I feel so big when I'm standing tall/One look at you, and I'm really small"). It's a "Privilege" to be reminded of the killer hook from The Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold," but painful reflections from pointed arguments jab between the sheets ("As you reach to turn the light above your bed/You take a look upon the things you said"). The CB transmission on "Over And Out" signs off with a big 10-4 on the relationship, though it suggests another mode of communication for further talks ("All that you'd hoped for means nothing to us now/Call when you know more").

These days, Elvis impersonators are all velvet ropes and posture. I don't know about you, but I prefer to kick back and relax with the album reviewed above. Oops! I just spilled a tall glass of iced tea.

-Gunther 8544

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