Mudhoney cranks up the crass on 'Vanishing Point'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There’s something relaxing in the unexpected constants. And certainly, the fact that Mudhoney in their middle age is still so convincingly insolent and effective is one of the happier accidents of the 21st century.
While Mudhoney doesn’t necessarily get as adventurous on their ninth album, Vanishing Point, as they have in the past, what’s present instead is a tight honing in on style and sound. And the style and sound is sneering, rude, obnoxious and glorious.
It would be easy to sit and write about how that sound has worn over the 25 years Mudhoney has spent as a band, or how impressive it is to be this convincingly glowering in the mid-40s, but all that would somehow work to diminish how beautifully crass this record is. Mudhoney’s sound has always been distorted and distracted, with singer Mark Arm’s permanently near-nasal whine front and center of the chaos. And through the years, they’ve found ways to evolve that sound to stay fresh; they’ve added horns in the past, taken on issues and guitarist Steve Turner has toyed with tones and passages in order to keep things interesting and relevant.
And it’s not as if Vanishing Point plays as a note-for-note remake of their debut Superfuzz Bigmuff. What takes place instead is Mudhoney firing on all cylinders, loosening up and dishing out 10 songs over 35 minutes that bring just the right amount of songcraft and insensitivity.
The record starts with drum patterns that almost feel like free jazz, before inevitably falling into fuzzy guitars and Turner’s singular screech that moves the entire enterprise into that familiar Northwest freakout they’ve so perfected. “What to Do with the Neutral” finds Guy Maddison taking the bass for a walk while Turner and Arm spin a bizarre tale against boredom. “The Final Course” has Turner’s guitar whirling around the channels while Arm screams and spits. They don’t rest on laurels.
But they also give plenty when it comes to odes of sarcasm and fun. Reinforcing the noble belief that nothing is ever really ok in a superficial world, while simultaneously upholding some hang-ups that are, ultimately, superficial, Mudhoney has made perhaps their most Mudhoney-esque record yet.
There's a hilarious rant against sellouts and backstage champagne on "Chardonnay:” “Get the fuck out of my backstage/I hate you Chardonnay,” and at one point Arm imitates what must be a vomiting noise. Or take Arm’s ballad to all things “small” in “I Like it Small,” which serenades dingy basements, money-losing investments and orgies that are capped at 12. Everything in moderation, of course.
But just as funny and strangely poignant is “I Don’t Remember You,” a tale of running into a near-forgotten hanger-on at the supermarket. After a few reminders, the narrator finally drops the pretense of courtesy and brushes off the leech:
“I don’t care if you think I’m a prick
It’s clear to me that you’re the same piece of shit
Who used to hang around way back when
This is what I'll say if I see you again
I don't remember you.”
Mudhoney has been around, obviously, and there’s no doubt that they’ve run into a character or two from the past they’d just as rather pretend they don’t remember. What they’ve kept through all that time, though, is the ability to remember how to channel their rage and annoyances with the snap of a 16-year-old. The difference between now and then is simply the wisdom necessary to best deploy that rage. When that’s done right, it has the makings of a punk classic, and Vanishing Point is all angst, piss and spit.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org