Mudhoney – Vanishing Point (Review)

For the last week I’ve been listening to this album (like, a lot) and I made up some words to describe it for The 405. If it reads like shit it’s because I was drunk on grunge (and also alcohol because swill princess Stephanie Cosh beer pressured me to finish the whole thing in 30 minutes).

Review: Mudhoney – Vanishing Point

mudhoney

Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the fact that Mudhoney has been active for 25 years. This is an impressive milestone by anybody’s standards, but it also makes them one of the longest running bands to surface from the Seattle’s hallowed underground.

Mark Arm (vocals/guitars) and Steve Turner (guitars) have been making music together since forming Green River in 1984 – a little known but heavily influential band that pre-dated the commercial success of grunge via Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Arm is even credited by some as being the first person to use the term “grunge” to describe the punk/metal cross-breed that manifested within the Seattle scene, but the expression had been knocking around before Arm’s first band, Mr. Epp and the Calculations, who performed their first live show using rolled-up maps because they couldn’t play any instruments.

Mudhoney formed from the ashes of Green River in 1988, around the same time Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman abandoned their day joys to run their label Sub Pop full-time. Since then, both band and label have lived prior to, through, and beyond the 80/90s grunge movement whilst remaining inescapably linked to it (and each other). Both have, at some point, been lackadaisically described as the “true survivors” of grunge, but that only perpetuates the notion that movements actually “die”. In reality, they simply weave in and out of general popularity.

We’re at a point now where “grunge-love” is rekindling particularly feverishly (a quick glance at the window display of any Urban Outfitters will tell you that), but the release of Vanishing Point is a bold reminder of where the most recent wave of jam-laden bands like The Men, Milk Music and DIIV tip their hats.

Their ninth studio album and first since 2008, Vanishing Point is pretty much the best silver anniversary present anybody could ask for. Mudhoney’s music has always been smeared with sardonic sleaze, petulant aggression and a wilful disregard to fit in (to society, a genre of music, or anything else), and their fierce personality has only matured over the years. And by matured I mean gotten stronger, not more sensible. Listening to a 50-year old dude rail about “douchebags on parade” over and over again should be embarrassing. Instead, Arm’s lyrics and delivery pack more rousing “fuck you, society” attitude than Tyler, The Creator’s Twitter feed and more spit-beer-on-your-mates moments than a FIDLAR show.

The actual message? I’m not convinced there really is one other than you’re never too old to proclaim your hard-on for GG Allin, dingy basement venues or anything with “limited appeal” (‘I Like It Small’), vibe on a lyrical level similar to Nick Cave at his most frustrated (‘The Only Son of the Widow from Nain’) or snarl with so much swagger you out-Iggy Iggy Pop – Arm’s closest and most frequent comparison.

Mudhoney share the same pop meets punk/The Beatles meets Black Sabbath objective as Nirvana but with a different kind of approach. They were always more Butthole Surfers than Dinosaur Jr, their melodies lie almost entirely in the guitar lines rather than vocals and, most significantly, they are much less emotional.

The five year gap between releases – their longest ever period of silence – was partly due to the passing of Sub Pop executive Andy Kotowicz in 2010, which, for obvious reasons, left the group too devastated to even consider writing. But despite all the turbulent events in their lives, Mudhoney’s records have never had any real capacity for sincere emotion or self-indulgence. That may sound vapid, to some, but it is by no means a criticism. Their music has always had something of a smirking air, carrying with it the idea that they’re the kind of guys who would respond to being expelled from school by toilet papering the head teacher’s house.

From the pissed-off ‘I Don’t Remember You’, documenting the exhausting ordeal of encountering people from your past whilst food shopping, to the punked-up ‘Chardonnay’ in which Arm instructs “the drink that launched a thousand strippers” to “get the fuck out of my backstage,” their signature Northwestern “loser-punk” angst is constantly boiling over. Just like the similarly long-lived punk godfathers, Descendents, some bands never lose the pugnacious attitude that made them definitive of a generation that will always lie in the fabric of society, regardless of what decade it is.

“A little, isolated germ culture” – this is how Jack Endino (Skin Yard guitarist) describes Seattle in the book ‘Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge’ written by Mark Yarm. (Yes, Mark YARM. Allow yourself to bask in the hilarious coincidence of that name for a moment…). Well, Mudhoney are the genuine musical embodiment of that concept. They’re all raised eyebrows, shrugged shoulders and zero-given-fucks. They’ll make puking sounds instead of lyrics if they feel like it. They’ll use obscure Biblical references for no particular reason. And if they are in fact the true, understated flagship band of Generation X, they don’t really care. But you should.

Originally published on The 405.

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