Mudhoney is perhaps only reluctantly named godfathers of grunge.
Mudhoney is perhaps only reluctantly named godfathers of grunge. For the most part, the bands of that era have a more mainstream legacy — think of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and even Alice in Chains to some extent. It seems a rare point of view that acknowledges Mudhoney (or its precursor Green River) as first introducing the idea of a dirty, sloppy, and grungy rock and roll. Nevertheless its self-titled debut and follow-up, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge reveal a very specific rendering of grunge. Mike Arm’s sardonic wit wails out over rock ‘n’ roll guitar riffs and drums which sound almost lazily played. There is an overlap with punk but only in the sense of there being an innate DIY approach to making the music. It’s as though the punk attitude were applied directly to rock and left there. It didn’t need to be fast, furious, or even particularly angry. It was just fun and irreverent. Socially and politically, these are different times, and 30 years later, that sound seems more necessary than ever. The beauty of Mudhoney’s latest, Digital Garbage is that it picks up exactly where its earlier material left off.
After so many years of live performance, the band is tighter and far more effective. Grunge is less about amateurism and more about a deliberate intent to form loose, swinging guitar chords and lyrics sprayed disrespectfully into the audience. “Paranoid Core,” for instance, pokes fun at the concerns of tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists, from “dykes … stealing your wife” to chemtrails and sharia law. “Please Mr. Gunman” looks at the American reality of mass shootings and the often unexpected and unhelpful reaction of some of the victims.
One of the most interesting evolutions of the band is the addition of keyboards on “Kill Yourself Live” and other tracks. This unexpected development adds an element of old-time rock ’n roll that grounds the band. If you doubted for a moment that song structure was something Mudhoney took very seriously, the keyboard lines and guitar licks will open your eyes.
That said, is Mudhoney still relevant? Good but no longer groundbreaking, perhaps not. The Seattle scene has come and gone, and regardless of its fine musicianship or timely social commentary, the record doesn’t really have any standout tracks, no fresh anthems such as “Touch Me, I’m Sick” or “Suck You Dry.” Digital Garbage follows a similar pattern, but if the band has perfected a tighter deliver, they don’t bring anything new. The album has a lot for Mudhoney fans to appreciate, from evolving chops to mature politics, but its sound hasn’t changed. Sure, things don’t have to change all the time. It’s fine for a band to just deliver more of the same, even 30 years on. The trouble here is that the people listening have long since moved on, and it’s hard to image anyone getting excited about hearing the same old thing.