I didn’t check out the last Mudhoney record, 2006’s Under a Billion Suns, because the one before that, 2002’s Since We’ve Become Translucent, didn’t really churn my butter. “Take It Like a Man” was pretty hot, but the rest of the record was more bland than Ted Koppel. The sloth-paced eight minute opening track “Baby, Can You Dig The Light?” was particularly irksome. I remember singer/guitarist Mark Arm saying in an interview at the time that “Baby” was supposed to be a “test” of some sort to see if people could still make it through a Mudhoney record.
Hey, Mark Arm: that wasn’t cool, bro. Tests are the reason I quit going to school after the sixth grade.
The good news is there are no overly long snoozefests on the ‘Honey’s latest offering The Lucky Ones. No tune goes past the five-minute mark, keeping attentions from wandering to thoughts of patio furniture and weasel droppings. Unfortunately, your brain might drift that way regardless as nothing Arm and his cohorts have crafted here is all that memorable. It’s another batch of seemingly uninspired grunge rockers lacking the sinewy venom that was the hallmark of early Mudhoney. These songs, if I may steal a phrase from goateed uber-producer Ed Stasium, just kind of lay on their side. The songs onThe Lucky Ones are like beached whales.
On the up side, Mark Arm’s voice is still that same unmistakable whine of a total creep partially drunk on stolen (and possibly homemade) hooch. The old boy doesn’t sound a day over 1996. Arm’s ability to shift vocally in any given song from detached, smirking hipster to depressed, shrieking victim is something that helped define this great band in the first place. Arm injects his most inspired and tortured caterwauling here into “Tales of Terror”, which is apparently a tribute to an ancient hardcore band Mudhoney used to hobnob with. I’ve never heard of them, but then again, there’s a lot of stuff on the West Coast of this great land of ours that’s completely foreign to me (In n’ Out Burger, earthquakes).
There are other guys in this band, you know, and I’ll mention that lead guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters, and bassist Guy “Not Lombardo” Maddison do their part to whip up that neo-swingin’ ‘60s garage rock sound Mudhoney often likes to champion. Something is most certainly lacking, though, as if the inspiration or the magic or the pixie dust has just plumb dried up. Go ahead and blame the departure of original bassist/heart of Mudhoney Matt Lukin a few records ago, but frankly, I don’t think that’s it. Matt Lukin, to the best of my knowledge, does not possess a magical songwriting cloak that allows for the creation of incredible grunge anthems. He’s just a goofy bass player everybody likes.
No, methinks the problem here is the Mudhoneys (who were quite popular with the MTV at one point) are just getting old. Again I was struck by something Mark Arm said regarding his band’s work. In a passage I spotted deep in the six pages of press clippings Sub Pop sent along with The Lucky Ones (way to save the rainforest, Bruce and Jonathan), Arm related something Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister once told him: stick around long enough and they’ll start calling you legends (they, of course, being journalists and rock fans and every person not in your band who isn’t your mom and dad). Mudhoney secured their place in the cool pantheon years ago, but it does seem the only reason they keep making records is to insure that hard-fought “legend” tag.
That’s kind of a shame. If Mudhoney had packed it in six years ago, one might have been able to call their catalog dangerously close to flawless. Now, they aren’t so lucky. Pun most certainly intended.