Once upon a time, Mudhoney was the goose that laid golden eggs for Sub Pop. In Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, Bruce Pavitt admits that there was a time in the early ’90s when his Seattle-based record label barely had the funds to pay their utility bills, let alone pay the artists on their roster. Mudhoney was the short-term solution to Sub Pop’s money woes. When the band released Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, sales were good enough for Sub Pop to stay alive and fight another day. Members of the staff gave Mudhoney credit for keeping their “lights on”.
Now that Sub Pop are giving the album a special 30th-anniversary treatment, it’s worth reflecting on Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and where it sits in the history of the grunge/punk/Pacific Northwest music scene. In mid-1991, American pop music was in a very, very different place. Nirvana, the band that genuinely saved Sub Pop’s bacon, wouldn’t release their sophomore album Nevermind until the following September, and Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten would beat them to the punch by about a month. In less than a year, both bands would rule American airwaves as the Seattle scene became a ubiquitous presence worldwide. Mudhoney would get poached by Reprise Records and wouldn’t make another album for Sub Pop until 2002.
Funnily enough, the closer the band became to inking a deal with a major label, the more rough and raw their sound became. After recording five songs with Jack Endino for the band’s would-be second full-length album, the sessions were abandoned. Guitarist Steve Turner said they sounded “a little too fancy, too clean”. It seemed that the more recording capabilities the band had access to, the further they drifted from their original sound. Turner, eager to get things sounding like “Touch Me, I’m Sick” once again, booked Mudhoney to record in Conrad Uno’s basement studio. Mudhoney aborted plans for an album of punk covers, and sessions for Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge began soon after. All Mudhoney needed were eight tracks for recording, and they were good to go.
The 30th-anniversary edition of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge features a remastering job from Chicago’s Bob Weston, guaranteeing the album to shine brightly without losing its punk edge. The remaining 15 tracks/41 minutes pack in some b-sides. There are two different versions of “March to Fuzz”, the soundtrack song “Overblown” (coincidentally featuring the lyric that inspired the title of Yarm’s book), and five demos that drummer Dan Peters humorously called “the 24-track demos for our eight-track album.” The cover has been changed from an out-of-control boat with perishing stick figures to an airplane diving in flames with perishing stick figures. Make of that what you will.
The spirit of 1960s garage rock was alive and thriving within Mudhoney at this time. As Pearl Jam and Nirvana were about to head into a serious rivalry with some seriously-produced music, Mudhoney were taking themselves about as seriously as they usually do — which is to say, not at all. Singer Mark Arm takes up the Farfisa organ on “Generational Genocide”, a demented, instrumental waltz that opens the album with enough pomp to maybe fill a thimble. The guitars on “Good Enough” are noisy, but not very loud. Peters sounds like he’s playing the drums with tree twigs while Arm gives a vocal performance that sounds like someone rousted him from a nap. Keith Cameron even name-drops Spacemen 3 in the press release when describing the album’s cryptic and spacey closer “Check-Out Time.” It turns out you can do quite a bit of extrapolating when ’60s garage rock is your primary source of inspiration.
The tracks selected for the band’s 2000 compilation <em>March to Fuzz</em>, “Who You Drivin’ Now?”, “Let It Slide”, and “Into the Drink”, showcase Mudhoney as a strong unit. The guitars pulverize, Arm’s Iggy wail pierces, but it all remains indelibly catchy somehow. If you have heard the second disc of said compilation, then you are already familiar with the b-sides “March to Fuzz”, “Ounce of Deception”, “Paperback Life”, “Fuzzbuster”, and “Bushpusher Man”. All of these and “Overblown” exist nicely alongside the album, though “March to Fuzz” and “Ounce of Deception” are closer to being Fudge products than “Paperback Life” if you want to split hairs. “Flowers for Industry” was likely too caustic and weird for the album, and the riff that gets “You’re Gone” chugging is the sludgiest thing to this package. An earlier recording of “Thorn” somehow sounds clearer than what appeared on the album.
The 24-track demos are saved for last. Of the five songs, three wound up on Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge: “Something So Clear”, “Check-Out Time”, and an organ-less “Generation Genocide”. “Bushpusher Man” and “Pokin’ Around” are the other two. Taken together, they are remarkably polished for demos. According to the accompanying presser, this might have been how Mudhoney’s second full-length album would have sounded had Turner not steered them towards some guy’s basement where the walls are covered with egg cartons. It’s funny to hear the “Generational Genocide” demo at the end of the collection while a markedly less refined take starts the album.
Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge would go on to sell approximately 75,000 copies worldwide. Not bad for a band using an eight-track studio in a basement for a label on the verge of bankruptcy. Thirty years on, it’s still too gritty and dirty for mass public consumption. But as a college friend once theorized to me, play “In ‘n’ Out of Grace” for people enough times, and they will eventually learn to like it. Whether or not this is Fudge‘s time to re-shine, the anniversary remaster is a sure bet for anyone who held even a passing interest in this band. Even if you truly believed the original cannot be improved upon, there’s another album’s worth of material waiting for you.