I always had to be cooler than my brother, musically speaking. At just 18 months younger than me there was always this sort of competitive edge to everything we did. I felt in this respect I was always on the front foot. Having comitted several crimes against music in his record buying (slippery when wet/europe self-titled) I was always so far in front with my Smiths/Cure/Jesus and Mary Chain records that the odd blemish (Bruce Hornsby & The Range – I know…) could be forgiven. And then one day he arrived home with this record that looked amazing, and was filled with this dirty, slushy noise that my mother hated (always a good barometer) and sounded wondrous next to just about every other record he (and nearly all that I) owned. That record was Supermuff Bigfuzz, and despite my protestations, it brought him back into contention, if not a slight lead.
25 years later, and Mudhoney are still around, and have just released their ninth studio album, Vanishing Point. I wasn’t taking any chances, so I got it the day it came out, just to be sure.
1. Slipping Away
The start of the album is heralded by what sounds like it’s going to be a circus drum feature, only to lead us into what you not only expect, but desire. ‘The way you move, makes me stop’ sings Mark Arm, his voice instantly recognisable and his bands off-kilter garage rock similarly so. Its stops and starts and soars and screams and sets things off, well, perfectly.
2. I like it small
Arm barks his way through the beginning of what could be a pistols homage, with the guitar and bass playing similar figures, which seems to open out the space. With this attitude its difficult to imagine these boys are probably well into middle age. It sbuilds up into a We’re so pretty-a-like singalong, with these moog keyboard giving it an added (unexpected) twist.
3. What to do with the neutral
‘I took a step back, and made an assessment’ sings/says Arm at the beginning of the track, and the track also takes a step back, although not for long as a build up in sound (and menace) soon re-appears. Twisted guitars intertwine with Arms vocal, pondering the title, saying ‘its not an easy problem’ before the track comes to a grinding halt.
The tirade at poor Chardonnay (you’ve always been the critics darling…..I hate you Chardonnay) may only be less than two minutes long, but its classic Mudhoney – driving, afdrenelin fuelled noise-rock. And there’s still time for a guitar solo.
5. The final course
Its clear by this point in the album, that the band have abandoned most of the psychedilia of Since we’ve become translucent, in favour of doing what they (frankly) do best. But here they hint towards some of that fey psych, with swirling sound heralding a false ending, which picks up again for, well, the final course.
6. In this rubber tomb
I think its around here in the album you begin to understand that one of the main reasons Mudhoney are so great is because of Steve Turners guitar work. Heavily distorted it reaps its own version of destruction on In this rubber tomb, before taking the solo line in a attitude filled trade. There’s no place for me in the human race’ sings Arm, as Turner’s guitar propels him out of sight.
7. In don’t remember you
Its touch me I’m sick territory sonically, as Arm tells the tale of being (let’s say) slightly older, and meeting someone you’d rather not. ”Scuse me while I fill the shopping cart’ he sneers, and he makes a pretense of not remembering.
8. The only son of the widow from Nain
This propels onward like a meteor, knocking oeverything out of the way in its relentless rush towards the end. ‘I’m coming back for more’ wails Arm. Fuck, yes.
9. Sing this song of joy
An ode to someone (unspecific) who got everything they ever wanted, this is the band in ironic mode. Its a slower speed that Nain (well, it had to be) and it kicks the flowers up in the territory (metaphorically speaking of course) of a sort of quasi REM/Pixies territory. In a playful way.
10. Douchebags on parade
Being from middle England, there’s something that sounds faintly ridiculous about the word Douchebag, and before listening, I thought it should probably only be used in songs written by The Offspring and the like. After hearing the venom with which Arm spits it out, not only is it suitable, but a fitting end to the album.
If Mudhoney ever had a mid season dip in form, then this is certainly a return to it. It’s ten spiteful, angry, aggressive, noisy noise drenched and (essentially) great songs. It shows that middle age doesn’t have to mean cardigans and antiques roadshow, you can still be angry, and fun and controversial. This is a very, very good record. And if you don’t agree, well dammit you’re a douchebag. Or something.