PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Mudhoney: Vanishing Point

Photo: Emily Reiman

Mudhoney fans: Vanishing Point may not be your favorite album, but you'll still love it.


Vanishing Point

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2013-04-02
UK Release Date: 2013-04-01

Mudhoney were not supposed to last until 2013. Lead singer Mark Arm admitted that, looking back, they were supposed to record just one single then go their separate ways. They were just four friends deep in the trenches of the '80s Seattle punk scene not really looking to fit in anywhere. Twenty five years later, that's still kind of what they are, albeit with kids and day jobs. The secret to Mudhoney's longevity is twofold, a magic combination that came to me when chatting with a nay-sayer.

Around 2001, I saw a friend of a friend sporting a Mudhoney t-shirt. I asked him what the band was up to since no one had heard from them for a while. He said, "They're back on Sub Pop, going to make a new album soon ... but it's probably going to suck." On one level I saw his point, that any band that makes it past a certain age should be guarded with suspicion lest they lose their edge. On the other hand, I didn't think the negative attitude was very fair. After you plug away at something for so long, even in rock 'n roll, your experience should give you an advantage. Plus, this friend of a friend was not taking into account the two things that helped Mudhoney stay afloat for so long; a) their sound was never in fashion and b) they never took themselves seriously ... traits that would never apply to Mick and Keith.

Vanishing Point is the Mudhoney sound through and through. It's like Jimi Hendrix playing leads for the Stooges, trying to make the end result sound far more boneheaded than it really is. Apart from the politically jaded Under a Billion Suns, this century has found the band to be taking themselves far less seriously than before. While recording for Reprise in the '90s, their underground sense of punk goof was sometimes at odds with the rage and cynicism of the decade's mainstream music, a thing with which Mudhoney could never be conveniently lumped into. Now that the major label spending accounts are gone and the world's eye has long since turned away from Seattle, a band like Mudhoney can operate comfortably again. But this can't be mistaken for a lack of edge. Oh no, Vanishing Point is still filled with snot, and the band are still not above hocking a loogie right back at you.

If Mark Arm's voice reflects his age in the first half of the opener "Slipping Away", he's quick to swat it down with gravely moans and rhyming "baby yeah!" with "oh, goddamn!" This is nothing compared to "Chardonnay", a punk hurricane tirade against the "soccer mom's favorite sipper," lasting only 1:38 and featuring one of those regurgitating howls where Arm practically empties his lungs. Yet Mudhoney saved their most pissed-off sentiment for last with "Douchebags on Parade". I must admit there's something sadly comic about hearing a man in his 50s yowl about exhibitionist idiots that are "so satisfied". Again, Mudhoney's refusal to take themselves seriously rescue both the words and the music. There's even one of Mudhoney's unorthodox signature slide guitar solos that sounds less like the delta blues and more like a UFO trying to get the hell away from this parade. Either Turner or Arm (I'm not sure who plays leads and who plays solos) do a delightfully screwy solo on "What to Do With the Neutral", a intentionally clumsy piece of soul, bouncing on Guy Maddison's simplistic bass line, where the middle verse reads like Arm gave up on whatever melody pattern he was decoding and just started making it up as he went along:

I will say no to nothing

And yes to something

But I have no idea what that something should be

Nothing from nothing

Leaves nothing

I need Bill Preston to unlock this mystery

In addition to a lot of Stooges, there's still more than a pinch of Jimi to Mudhoney's sound. "I Don't Remember You" starts off with a guitar and drum rat-tat, tat-tat, tat-tat just like "Crosstown Traffic" once did (Dan Peters's drum work still steers the ship tightly). The song's main character encounters a scenester at a grocery store, one that is hell-bent on being recognized by the narrator. "I Don't" land on beats one and two, inviting the listener to brace themselves for "live today". Instead, Arm just assures the stranger again and again that he's just not that important, " ... remember you!" He even tries to remove himself from the situation by chiding "excuse me while I fill this shopping cart".

Saying that Vanishing Point is just another album from Mudhoney can be taken one of two ways. Either they're not bringing anything new to their sound or they are not pretending to anything they're not, i.e. ambitious. But as you get better acquainted with Vanishing Point your perspective will shift, as they do on most albums that play up their surface unflatteringly. "I like it small" crackles the chorus of one of Vanishing Point's brisker songs, trumpeting the virtues of life's smaller joys. It's an attitude that has worked well for Mudhoney. In 2002, Steve Turner even admitted that the band had become more of a hobby than a job. Even if it is just 34 minutes of music after a five year wait, Vanishing Point sounds pretty vital. Not bad for just a hobby.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.