This is it, folks. This is the album that put Seattle back on the map and brought grunge to the attention of the mainstream. Sure, frontman Mark Arm and chummy guitarist Steve Turner had released what is commonly referred to as the first grunge album with Green River in 1985 and the first EP in Sub Pop history with Dry As a Bone a year or so after that. But the songs collected here under the Russ Meyer banner of Mudhoney are what crossed the hardcore punk/heavy metal/indie rock fusion over from the pulsating underground depths into a platinum selling, flannel schilling movement. However, while Superfuzz Bigmuff pushed Sub Pop from a compilation newsletter to Seattle’s Motown, you can’t blame Nickelback on them. That was all Canada.
About half of the two CD Deluxe Edition was previously released around October of 1990 in the form of Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles. That particular pressing collected Mudhoney’s first two seven-inches, the title EP, and a couple covers in no particular order, unnoticed by the band for years. Not only does the Deluxe Edition restore the original to its highest level—remastering and, in the case of some demos and live radio tracks, mastered for the first time—but the tracklisting for disc one has been reorganized to a more sensible, nearly chronological arrangement.
Mudhoney’s first single “Touch Me I’m Sick” and its b-side “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” remain the first two songs, and rightly so. Driven by a gnarly, distorted proto-punk riff, “Touch Me I’m Sick” was the band at its most Stooges like, and they have subsequently never been able to truly match its raw power. It remains one of their most instantly recognizable songs. From there, disc one takes a turn towards definitiveness. “Twenty Four” has been added from a 1988 seven-inch compilation series called Dope Guns and Fucking in the Streets. Even though the original master for the intelligent ode to alcohol abuse is AWOL, it sounds perfectly at home between the first single and the restored six track Superfuzz Bigmuff EP. In fact, the first 14 tracks altogether sound like a complete, deliberately constructed album, with the last three songs on disc one being demos included for the sake of history. As you would expect, those demos generally lack the spark of the released versions and their fidelity is a little wanting, but they’re nice to have anyway. Actually, I like the slightly slower, simpler demo of “Need” more than the original. It has a subtly different feel.
Disc two shows the first disc in greater relief with a couple live late ‘80s performances. First up is a 36-minute bootleg set from October of ‘88, in Berlin of all places. They seemed a little awkward that night, saying “Yankee go home” a few times among attempts to banter with a foreign crowd that cheered wildly for each song, then went dead silent. Musically, they were on point as they played the entire Superfuzz EP and then some, and the recording quality is great. Aside from the more complete and sensible disc one, the Germany show is why fans will crave and upgrade to the deluxe edition. Recorded a month later, the other performance is a forgettable six-song set from Santa Barbara’s KCSB FM radio. It was mastered from cassette, so there’s a lot of hiss and mud there. I suppose it’s nice to have just to fill out the CD, but it’s not something you’ll return to often.
Overall, the remastering given to the Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles tracks leaves them virtually identical to the original pressing and the second disk isn’t completely essential. What’s going to draw people to this release will be the simultaneous 20th anniversary of Sub Pop and Mudhoney, hopefully with the rekindled memory that, were it not for them, the massive major label success achieved by Soundgarden and Nirvana may not have been possible. The seven-inch version of “Touch Me I’m Sick” remains as feverishly hardcore as it was on its release, and the Dick and Sonic Youth covers still ring true. The Superfuzz EP itself is as invigorating a piece of slacker rock as when it dropped on a scene in love with hair metal so hard that the spandexed, feathered genre couldn’t even be rekindled by The Darkness’ hype saturated, hackneyed Quiet Riot antics some 15 years later. So now, with all the bonus tracks, live shows, and restored order, Superfuzz Bigmuff is undoubtedly better then ever before, and due for another revolution. Unlike Nirvana and especially Soundgarden, Mudhoney never attempted to make anything slightly more commercial and, thus, have never been granted the success owed to them. If nothing else, the Deluxe Edition should give them more of the respect they have rightfully earned, if not the gold record Superfuzz Bigmuff deserves to be.
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// Notes from the Road
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