According to guitarist Steve Turner’s liner notes for Here Comes Sickness: The Best of the BBC Recordings, Mudhoney seem pretty damn clear about what they are and what they aren’t. They understand themselves as a pivotal part of that whole grunge/Seattle/Sub Pop early-‘90s thing whose time has come, and then gone. The good news is that they are wrong about that “gone” part. The bad news is that they are also kinda right.
The thing is that Mudhoney still sound good. They still please everybody’s inner-headbanger, they still invoke comparisons to the best of late ‘70s punk, and vocalist Mark Arm’s voice still sounds like a vaguely fucked-up combination of Kurt Cobain, Johnny Rotten (from back when he was something to listen to, pre-VH-1), and Joey Ramone. This puts Mudhoney in some very, very good company. Here Comes Sickness takes the band through 1989 and 1995 Peel Sessions recordings and a 13-song, 1995 Reading Festival performance. Mudhoney have always been a great live band, which means this album is all solid, and it all sounds like vintage Mudhoney—even the songs that aren’t Mudhoney songs, like Billy Childish’s “You Make Me Die” and Roxy Music’s “Editions of You”. And let’s face it: making Roxy Music sound like Mudhoney is no simple task. Let’s all give props where they’re due.
But this is also the problem with this album, and it brings me back to that pesky point about Mudhoney’s greatest time having passed them by. No matter how much I like Mudhoney’s near-signature sound, I also like a bit of variety, and the fact is that all 21 tracks on this album sound alike. Even “Touch Me I’m Sick”, arguably their best song to date, sorta blends into the cacophony of this album and refuses to call the attention to itself that it so clearly deserves. Even the songs with inner tempo changes seem fairly rote. It comes down to this: this is an album that you could have on a CD player set on repeat, and not realize when it’s started over. And Mudhoney was never meant to be background music.
Ultimately, this is still an album worth owning. Mudhoney have been an important band as long as they’ve been a good band, and their live performance is a refreshing reminder that the crap that passes itself off as punk these days (Blink-182, anyone?) is nothing but over-produced confection that doesn’t even bear a passing resemblance to the real deal. And Mudhoney is the real deal. It’s just that being “real” in the early ‘90s, coming from Seattle, and actually getting a record deal meant one thing and one sound, at least according to that Best Buy commercial. The sound is strong, to be sure, but it’s a little bit like a musical premature ejaculation. And for a finicky girl like me, that just leaves me wanting a touch more.