Mudhoney The Lucky Ones

[Sub Pop; 2008]

Styles: grunge, garage rock, heavy psych
Others: Comets on Fire, Whirlwind Heat

Consistency in rock ‘n’ roll can be a dangerous thing. Rewrite the same great tune over and over again, and you’re The Ramones if you’re lucky, lauded for your dog-eared endurance. But if you're unlucky, you're Tom Petty, slowly grinding the same tired melodies into the ground and boring your audience to the point of glassy-eyed irrelevance. Mudhoney have always been the most consistent band of the “grunge” genre, a style they arguably invented; and while they never moved the units of say Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Stone Temple Pilots, they have earned the respect of countless rock critics and historians, for whatever worth that is.

And after spending their last two albums subtly diversifying their sound, Mudhoney is back with The Lucky Ones, their eighth studio album, and their leanest offering of the new millennium. Gone are the Beefheart horn pileups of “Since We’ve Become Translucent” and “Under a Billion Suns,” replaced with guitarist Steve Turner’s sparse Big Muff leads and rhythm work, while songwriter Mark Arm has abandoned his axe in favor of Green River-style lead vocals, spouting tongue-in-cheek punk nihilism over bassist Guy Maddison’s plodding lines and drummer Dan Peters four-on-the-floor backbeats.

The whole thing works pretty well. While some of their contemporaries may have owed more to the sonics of Neil Young or Flipper, Mudhoney have clearly descended from the Stooges/MC5 bloodline. The plunking one-note piano line in opener “I’m Now” echoes John Cale’s production on “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and the wah-wah washes showcase a considerable debt to Ron Asheton. The fuzzy intro to the title track sounds like it could be sampled from “Kick Out the Jams,” while the brisk “Tales of Terror” conjures up images of all-aged hardcore matinées. These garage and punk concessions have always helped distinguish Mudhoney from the downtuned flannel-wearing masses, and they still sound fresh when paired with the band’s massive riffs.

Lyrically, Mark Arm spits crotchety old-man truisms, shouting “The past makes no sense/ The future looks tense” like some sort of warped children’s rhyme, or “There’s no word for how you feel/ Not even in German” in “And the Shimmering Light.” “The Open Mind” decries religious dogma: “The open mind is an empty mind/ So I keep mine closed.” Ditching the guitar hasn’t exactly turned him into poet, but his throaty howls do feel more focused. And the lyrics sound suitably desperate. The album was recorded in 3.5 days, and the frantic lyrics reflect the wham-bam attitude of such a recording style.

Although Mudhoney aren’t shaking things up too much with their established formula, The Lucky Ones shows no signs of the band mellowing out, and their bloozy, fuzzy rock action still sounds pretty damn great after a couple High Lifes. And while other, younger bands may be doing the fuzz thing with more style, diversity, or hype, you’d be hard pressed to find a band doing it with more heart, balls, and yeah consistency than Mudhoney.

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