If you didn’t know any better, you could be forgiven for thinking that New Wave Punk Asshole was celebrating its 20th anniversary with a re-issue. With its punk sneer, post-Nuggets keyboard washes and forays into roots rock, the third solo album from Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner feels like a sprung-from-the-vaults college rock classic. In an alternate universe, Turner probably opened for the Long Ryders or True Believers; back in this dimension, though, Turner’s taken some of the building blocks from his day job band and stripped them down to a lean (34 minutes), mean record that postulates a world where grunge never happened.
After the low-key, folksy 2004 offering, Steve Turner… and His Bad Ideas, hinted at Turner’s missed career as a coffeehouse troubadour, NWPA finds Turner back in noisy, fuck-it-all mode. Opener “No One Gives a Shit” (Turner’s got quite the potty mouth with his titles, no?) pulls double duty as a thesis statement and sonic blueprint: an air of resignation set to a simple, pounding riff. Do what you want, because no one gives a shit, offers Turner, backed by keyboardist/producer Johnny Sangster, bassist Jim Sangster and drummer Kevin Warner. Most of the album bubbles over with this straight talk and frustration, whether it’s the stomping “Reject the Future”, the blunt let’s-call-a-spade-a-spade “Sex Date Saturday Night” or the galloping “Stupid Blues”, with the single bleakest line on the whole album: “My friends are stupid / Some of them are morons / I don’t understand how we got to be so boring.”
Lest I paint a picture of Turner as an insufferable complainer, he’s still got a funny streak. To a certain constitution, the above songs are bleakly comic, and this certain constitution thinks he channels the similarly-miened Scott McCaughey in more than a few places. On “Somewhere I Have Some Friends of Mine”, Turner tells a tale of some friends who show up at his place unannounced while he’s naked, and he has to scramble to find clothes. The only knock on the song—and a few others, for that matter—is that the tune sounds half-finished. I guess that’s the trade off for tearing through sixteen songs in a half-hour, but a little more polish would’ve been nice in a few places.
And then, there’s the matter of the inaccurate album title. Yes, there’s some punk bluster and attitude, but these ears hear very little New Wave. As mentioned earlier, Turner leans heavily on ‘80s roots rock, and surprisingly, it’s a refreshing sound. Not too many people are mining this territory these days—Paul Westerberg as Grandpaboy? The Yayhoos?—and Turner wears it well.
With a resurgent(ish) Mudhoney releasing the well-received Under a Billion Stars and touring behind it, Turner gets to use his solo records as a Frustration Release Valve, and fans of quick-n-dirty records that sounds like they were recorded in 1986—and I know there’s some of you out there—will benefit from Turner’s problems.
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