Book Reviews

Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle (Voyageur Press)

mudhoney

In 2013, as a celebration of their twenty-fifth anniversary, I’m Now, a biographical documentary was released, shedding light on Seattle grunge survivors Mudhoney. It was one of the first in-depth looks into a band that launched “the opening salvo of Grunge” with their vital and still-fresh debut single, “Touch Me I’m Sick.” If anything, I’m Now left one hungry for a more investigative background.
Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle is that in-depth look. Written by Keith Cameron--an author who was there during the insanity of the “Grunge movement,” he has written extensively on the brief, intense “grunge” phenomenon. Thus, this look at Mudhoney s a surprisingly in-depth story of a no-nonsense, hardworking band that superficially might not have been as “successful” as their peers, but is a band that is still going strong.

On one hand, it is interesting to discover that Mudhoney’s history is about as normal and unspectacular as their everyman, working-class, no-bullshit music. Unlike many of their peers, their ethic was one of simple music-making; they didn’t want to be spokesmen, nor did they seek out a desire to do anything that would deviate from their basic rock-and-roll formula. Nor has there been any real amount of public tension and drama–frontman Mark Arm’s drug use was atypical of the era, but unlike, say, Kurt Cobain or Layne Staley, Arm’s heroin use never made the papers–or inspired the music. Of course, it didn’t hurt that even in the throes of addiction, the band released a steady stream of record after record, single after single, an ethic not typical of a junkie band.

Furthermore, what makes Mudhoney unique is that though their sound has always been singular in vision and definitive in style, the best music stems from when they do their best to break out of their creative groove. In the band’s ascent, they would split up shortly after releasing their debut album, simply because guitarist Steve Turner felt they’d not accomplished anything new stylistically. His insistence on shaking up the process that had served them relatively well for their next album resulted in one of their best works to date, 1991’s Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. When told their recording budget for their final major label album ,1997’s Tomorrow Hit Today, was going to be a “use it or lose it affair,” their enlisting of legendary producer Jim Dickinson resulted in their most nuanced, fleshed out album.

And yet, the Mudhoney story offers an interesting look at the workings of a hard-working band. They have had their backstage drama, but it never interfered with the music, and ultimately these struggles helped to strengthen the band and make it stronger. When fun-loving bassist Matt Lukin leaves, it’s disappointing, but when Guy Maddison is hired to replace him, he brings a freshness to the band, and it’s as if nothing has changed. When the band is dropped, they consider it a liberation, even if the band seemingly split. When the band becomes a secondary concern, it doesn’t change the music; if anything, their post-Lukin, post-full-time status has resulted in some really amazing, enjoyable albums–and they’ve not stopped, releasing the excellent Vanishing Point last year to great critical acclaim.

Ultimately, Mudhoney’s a band where the sound and the vibe is king, and after a quarter-century, they’re not going anywhere. Mudhoney: The Sound And The Fury From Seattle illustrates that when you do what you do with no bullshit and you focus on what it is that you want to do, you can quietly make your way in the world.

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