This week: A lesson in “writing”
Have you noticed how magazines have vastly different writing styles? The mainstream press favours a more ‘objective’ approach—vaguely bloodless, borderline reportage—because it needs to be crystal-clear for a whole raft of readers who view music as equally as important as remembering to put the bins out Sunday night and surfing. This leads to a weird juxtaposition of straight facts and hidden enthusiasm: mainstream newspaper critics learning early on that if they want to survive, they need to exercise restraint.
It’s long occurred to me that actually loving music is a hindrance in these circumstances, but perhaps I’m being unduly cynical. Anyway, for better and worse, here is my attempt at proving the style isn’t beyond the reach of anyone…
Mudhoney, The Lucky Ones
“I’ve got no idea why we’re here,” screams singer Mark Arm at the close of ‘Tales Of Terror’, a full-on, rolling-in-the-muck old school garage/grunge-fest. The subtext reads: but I’m glad we are. Arm is clearly having too much fun to be concerned with fineries such as context or meaning.
It would be tempting to call Mudhoney’s eighth studio album—recorded in a bare three-and-a-half days, and built from the ground up, with Australian bassist Guy Maddison and long-term drummer Dan Peters to the fore—a return to form, except that Mudhoney’s form has never really dipped. The elder statesmen of grunge have always instinctively understood the value of restraint: sure, they layer songs like ‘The Lucky Ones’ with the sweetest fuzz and feedback, courtesy of guitarist Steve Turner, but they never overdo the sound. The Mudhoney sound now is what the Mudhoney sound has always been—going way back to their debut 1988 EP Superfuzz Bigmuff—dirty, vicarious, full-on energetic and fuelled by the same love for Sixties garage and Seventies punk. No frills, but plenty of thrills. It’s aggressive. It’s raw. It’s energising. And it has very little to do with the pseudo-grunge/suburban metal bands that MTV used to—and still—confuses with grunge.
This is the real grunge.
“Heavy metal is objectionable,” states Arm. “I don’t even know why people use that comparison for us. People will say that Motörhead is a metal band and I totally disagree, and I disagree that AC/DC is a metal band. To me, those are rock bands. There’s a lot of Chuck Berry in Motörhead. It’s really loud and distorted and amplified but it’s there – especially in the earlier stuff. And AC/DC has an almost blues thing filtered through its weird Australian take. When I think of heavy metal bands, I think of bands that have these epic songs that go into these goofy time signatures. More like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest—an operatic singer. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath are the roots of this. The bands that followed them were trying to break the rules…and the bands that copied them set the rules. The same thing happened with punk rock. Led Zeppelin bugged me because you’d hear them all the time, and the singer was kind of annoying. But their live stuff from ’71? It’s amazing. That’s a rock’n’roll band.”
No one in his or her right mind would call Mudhoney metal (even though Arm and Turner were both in the Seattle band Green River that spawned grunge-metal icons Pearl Jam). Instant anthem, the laconic “I’m Now” is pure Stooges; the turbulent “What’s This Thing?” recalls the stripped-down force of Texas band 13th Floor Elevators—and both are equals to former Mudhoney classics, such as ‘Here Comes Sickness’ and Arm’s vitriolic shot at celebrity, 1995 single “Into Your Shtik.”
“Mudhoney is one of the few bands that I know who can take 20 years and finally hit their prime,” states Sub Pop CEO Jonathan Poneman with the sort of glib—but lovable— ease that made me fall in love with his label first time round. “Mudhoney is sharing their 20th anniversary with Sub Pop, and in this, their 20th year, they are performing with more ferocity and more fluidity than I ever remembered them previously. Their hair is shorter, their paunches bigger, but they still rock the hell out of the competition.”