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Mudhoney: Still Going Strong?

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With some bands, you just wish they’d give up and retire. Their creative juices have long since bubbled away. Geezerhood and irrelevance should have naturally come to these artists years ago, but media momentum and a devoted enough fan base keep their withered husks going through the motions. Sure they did some great work back in the day, but they hoover it up now.

Why does anybody want to pay to see an 85 year-old Mick Jagger shake his wrinkled old arthritic ass, while Keith Richards uses controlled rigor mortis to make his undead corpse control his guitar. Have the Stones produced anything of musical value since the late 70’s? What the hell are they doing playing sold out stadium? They should be in geriatric care fer chrissakes, not a tour bus.

Moving a little closer to the subject of this review, look at Pearl Jam. These guys had one good album with their debut Ten (two if you liked Vs, which I didn’t). After this, it was a gradual and steady decline in the quality of their output, and the entertainment level of their shows, until we’re left with a band that’s nothing but a Naderite ad campaign with a whiney, Mohawk-topped frontman. Yet they persevere and continue to make albums and tour long after we all stopped caring. Why?

To many of us who grew up in the midst of the early 90’s Seattle music scene, Mudhoney were the finest of old-guard Seattle rockers. With their fuzzed-out guitars and blues-tinged sound, Mudhoney invented what would later be called “Grunge”, a label that would later be used to describe nearly every band coming out of Seattle in the 90’s, regardless of how grungy they actually sounded (how did Vedder and Co. get wrapped into this bunch?). Still, while dozens of Seattle bands were hitting the mainstream left and right, the boys of Mudhoney were left relatively ignored.

While Kurt Cobain was getting felated by the world and hating it, Mudhoney was working hard and releasing the landmark Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge on SubPop. The band was prolific throughout the 90’s, with a number of great side projects as well (for one of the greatest albums of the last decade, check out the first album from Mark Arm and Steve Turner’s side band Monkeywrench). As Grunge was being pronounced dead, they released what is still my favorite of their albums (although many fans disagree with me on this), My Brother The Cow on Reprise (the label that dropped them after ‘98’s Tomorrow Hit Today)

Since their 1988 debut, Mudhoney has survived a decade and a half of shifting music scenes and neglect from the wider music world. With their first new album since 1998, we must ask: have they avoided the soul sucking crapulence that haunts so many other bands that continue on into their second decade?

The short answer is, “yes”. The slightly longer answer is, “Of course they have you schmuck, this is Mudhoney we’re talking about here.” The even longer answer is discussed below.

Since We’ve Become Translucent is the band’s first new studio album since bassist Matt Lukin left the band in 1999, replaced by Guy Maddison (joining the three other original members, Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Dan Peters). This may seem like sacrilege to old-time fans, but he seems to fit pretty well with the band. Also added, somewhat surprisingly to me at least, was a horn section.

Every Mudhoney album has a unique sound, while retaining a core Mudhoney feel, but I’ll admit I was worried about the horns. All I could imagine was some kind of overwhelming Ska or Jazz sound trying to merge with the sweet, sweet MH fuzz. My fears were, of course, foolish. The horns are only used on a few songs, and when they are, they accentuate rather than overpower. Where The Flavor Is and Take It Like a Man are two tracks where the brass is strong, and they’re both killer songs.

Aside from a first track that’s a bit long for my tastes, every song is a good one. In terms of songwriting, I’d say it’s somewhere between Every Good Boy and My Brother The Cow. Tracks vary from the straightforward The Straight Life to the long, venting, Sonic Infusion, but all are straight-up Mudhoney.

The new album is good. Not my favorite disc from Arm and company, but that’s no knock when you consider the constant quality that these guys put out. They may be getting older (Arm is now in his 40s), but they ain’t slowing down.

And if there’s one band I want rockin’ out until they’re in their walkers and wheelchairs, it’s Mudhoney.

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