Seattle grunge pioneers’ first full-length, back on purple plastic.
Stevie Chick 2009
In the years following its commercial breakthrough, grunge won a perhaps-deserved reputation for angst, humourlessness, and overwrought narcissism. Such brickbats, however, can hardly be flung at Mudhoney, arguable pioneers of the genre: their first releases, the deathless Touch Me I’m Sick 7” and Superfuzz Bigmuff EP, reintroduced a drunken, messy bonhomie to the moshpits of an American underground still suffering a hangover from the violent, confrontational era of hardcore punk.
Their debut full-length, released in 1989, shaded in the details, the acerbic nuances, hinted at by their earlier records. Save for a couple of excellent burned-out comedown ballads – Come to Mind, wreathed in Steve Turner’s twisted-razorwire guitar solos, was a highlight – they scarcely veered from their template of dog-eared garage-rock played through busted amps and feral FX pedals, cooking up a sludgy, breathless rush of fuzz flavoured with flecks of psych-era ephemera (Magnolia Caboose Babyshit was their ferocious vamp on a similarly-titled psych-funk instrumental by ill-fated 60s metal progenitors Blue Cheer).
This was a group steeped in trash-culture and venomous kitsch: Mudhoney songs were like a Roger Corman B movie delivered in three minutes of buzzsaw guitar and frontman Mark Arm’s throat-scraping, sardonic yowl. When Arm penned love songs, they came off like tales stolen from the pages of old EC horror comics, drenched in bad taste and black humour, like Dead Love’s grisly tale of heartbreak driving a man to bury himself alive, or the archly-delivered Devil Woman clichés and frantic wah-wah freak-outs of Here Comes Sickness.
Amid all this marvellous mire, Mudhoney rocked ferociously: Flat Out Fucked’s titular howl of hopelessness seems oddly anthemic when set to such blitzing riffs, while the swaggering You Got It winningly sounds like a thrift-store Aerosmith, Arm acidly teasing an egotistical scenester over a gutbucket-funky blues stomp. The frustrated lust of Get Into Yours, meanwhile, saw Mark Arm getting carnal like Iggy Pop on The Stooges’ Penetration, snarling his way into his paramour’s heart, and her no-doubt-crawling skin.
These weren’t songs that spoke the frustrations of suburban MTV-watching mallrat teens, and that’s doubtless why Mudhoney never shared in the multi-platinum success enjoyed by some of their peers. But 20 years on, the manic, macabre garage-rock contortions of their debut album remain a scuzzed-up, sleazy and subterranean treasure.