Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff

Superfuzz Bigmuff (1990) **1/2

Even at the time I realized as a teenager that grunge was little better than the hair metal it putatively replaced, the same old overwrought metallized post-Sabbath sludge dressed up in flannel instead of hairspray.  Mudhoney were infamously the Seattle scenesters that couldn't find mainstream success alongside their peers Soundgarden, Pearl Jam (half of whom had incestously played in the grunge-seminal Green River in the mid-'80s with approximately half of the guys who would form Mudhoney), Nirvana, and Alice in Chains.  They were right there alongside, but instead of Nirvana's not-so-secret melodic pop heart, or the rehashed Led Zeppelin theatrics of GardenJamChains, Mudhoney plainly aimed their aesthetic at the charms of gloriously sloppy garage band Stooge-isms.  So it's not really surprising in retrospect (or then-ro-spect, either) that the Honey didn't click to pick: kids like their rock stars writ large, and the Muds were self-consciously small.   This is music designed for sweaty, beer-soaked clubs, not arenas.  It is identifiably, even stereotypically grungey in the gauzy guitars sludging around dirtily and slovenly, but that's only in past-ro-spect, as the M-H's were coining the cliches.  And it's a nice sound, on the whole, when they get it right.  It's an obnoxious sound, on the whole, when they don't get it right.

Another reason that Mudhoney couldn't have made it to classic rawk FM was that radio programmers and stoned teenagers and collegiate wannabehipsters insist on the fake emotional grandeur, the sensitive snout not-so-hidden underneath the macho bluster, that is classic rockist butter on the bread.  Outright cynicism usually doesn't play well, and sneering contempt is the only emotional range Iggy-shrine vocalist Mark Arm has on offer.  But a sneering contempt for what, exactly?  Well, it seems as is the case with many a modern day hipster, he goes through the ritualized motions of punk without bothering to understand the need for (or understand, period) content.  The only time all the relentless cynical lip-curling focuses on a tangible target it's merely standardized and thereby boring old misogyny ("You Got It (Keep It Outta MyFace") ).  Not that the lyrics would really matter if the band's attitude lived up to their attitude, or if they stumbled across a handy riff or three.  Which is why "Touch Me I'm Sick," their first (and best) single remains a slop-rop classip; lyrically, it's about precisely nothing, but who the fuck cares?  The flipside to that 1988 debut "7 is the almost-as-tasty slidefest, "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More," the title (but not the tune itself) linking the HoneyMuds to the mid-'60s Jagger-Ape Chocolate Watch Band legacy.  There's precious little else here that matches that initial fuzzbomb, with the ringing loud and clear as an exception, "In 'N' Out of Grace," which is not an attempted jingle for a West Coast burger chain but I wish it would be - it's stomping and greasy (yeah, both at the same time, and that's a good thing).  So, in a peanutshell, a garage band is let down not so much by their charmingly sloppy performance but by ridiculously inconsistent songwriting.  There are, like, three wickedly good songs, total, dude.  About on par with the batting average of your average '60s Nuggets one-hit blunders, but it's the '90s - standards for a good hard rock album have risen.

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