Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mudhoney - The Lucky Ones

Okay, just for the fun of it, let's look back at the 12 bands featured in Our Band Could Be Your Life.
-Black Flag
-Mission of Burma
-Minor Threat
-Husker Du
-The Replacements
-Big Black
-Butthole Surfers
-Sonic Youth
-Dinosaur Jr.
-Beat Happening

Of those 12, 4 of those bands are still operating with all their original members intact (though 2 of them underwent extremely long hiatuses). Of those 12, all but one or two have principal members still actively working under whatever moniker(mostly going solo...Henry Rollins (on IFC), the Stooges, Bob Mould, Paul Westerberg, Shellac, Calvin Johnson). This is really starting to be amazing as most of these bands earliest seeds were sown nearly thirty years ago. Thus, the only 2 bands to survive an extremely long haul with only slightly varied original units--Sonic Youth and Mudhoney--and of those two, it seems incredible that one of them goes on regardless, when it would appear that 90% of the population might recognize the name Sonic Youth and less than 10% might recognize the name Mudhoney, but that is probably also the case for the Melvins, and they are probably a better comparison to make here. But in any case, Mudhoney is arguably as strong a band as they have ever been, despite their advancing age, and their newest album The Lucky Ones could serve as some sort of career-defining final album--of course that would be sad, but one look at the inside of the CD and one listen to the title track makes it seem all too apropos.

Opener "I'm Now" is amazing for how it can make one feel that the last eighteen years haven't really happened. Except the subject matter is very focused on the aspect of timekeeping. There are a couple instrumental flourishes that maybe Mudhoney wouldn't have used in the early 90's (keyboards here). "The past made no sense/The future looks tense/I'm now" is the chorus, and Mark Arm sells it the way he typically can. "Inside Out Over You," I can only describe as saying it sounds like "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More" and I'm probably only saying that because Superfuzz Bigmuff was reissued the same day The Lucky Ones was released. And with the 1-2-3 punch of this album approaching the 1-2-3 punch of that album, it's almost as if Mudhoney is saying, "See, we're just as good as ever."

Title track, third track, is a radio-ready single for any alternative rock radio station, but they're probably all too fucking dumb to play Mudhoney. It could be a #1 single in the same way grunge could chart in 1992. Styles have changed, but "The Lucky Ones," I can hardly see as anything but an elegy for Kurt Cobain, and perhaps a few others--though who really knows who Mark Arm could be referencing in this song? "The lucky ones have already gone down/the lucky ones are lucky they're not around," again, another simplistically worded chorus that Arm, and probably only Arm, is able to pull off. (Could anyone make "Fuck You!" sound so awkward and awesome at the same time as he does on "You Got It (Keep It Outta My Face)"?) This is the longest song on the album, and it reminds me a lot of everything on Superfuzz Bigmuff, especially "In N Out of Grace," for some reason. But the subject matter is brutally depressing, and potentially dangerous for teens with suicidal thoughts (!), so obviously it's very deep and meaningful.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album begins to seem tedious when "Next Time" arrives with its plodding, repetitive, dirgey, drum-bass-guitar. Now, I can stand repetitive, simple music, if Mark E. Smith is providing the lyrics. However, Arm sounds more like Iggy Pop than MES, or he has more similar energy. He wants to play loud punk rock still. And that is very endearing, when someone such as myself is able to see Mudhoney play Chicago (September 1, 2006) and have a beer bottle land on his head (damn drunk Chicago assholes) and emerge from the pit drenched in sweat, as if he had been through a washing machine or bathtub or shower or lake or ocean or pond or similar body of water and see Mark Arm go totally nuts on stage (doing "Hate the Police" as an encore sans guitar, leaning into the over-frenzied crowd) and have his ears ring for 24 hours and have one of the best concert experiences of his life despite not knowing 70% of the 30 or 40 songs they must have played.

They're in the same class as Sonic Youth from that original book lineup because they've had years and years of practice. They haven't rested on their laurels because they haven't necessarily been able to--they're a real, working, very long-running punk rock band, and one of the last existing ones that continue to be vital in the scene. The rest of the album is not as sweet as the beginning, and only the title track could be considered as good as the best work in their career, but it is not a "phoned-in" performance, and understanding how hard Mudhoney partied, it is surprising they lasted longer than most of those other units. If anything, it's from sheer determination and a punishing live experience. Thank God Mudhoney do not want to hang up their jerseys yet. I would love to see them again. Ideally, doing a Don't Look Back performance of Superfuzz Bigmuff and then playing "The Lucky Ones" and "Touch Me I'm Sick" as encores. Maybe a Meat Puppets comparison would be more apt than the Melvins or Sonic Youth or Iggy Pop ones were.

No comments: