In an interview in the recent issue of Big Takeover, The Muffs’ Kim Shattuck talked to me about the making of their debut album. She relayed how much of a frustration it was to get made. Though they had lucked out in signing to a label that pretty much left them alone in creative matters, it was very much a learning experience for her, both in terms of what to do (and not to do) in the studio, as well as helping her solidify her role as the leader of The Muffs, Their self-titled debut album was one she felt odd about, because she wasn’t completely satisfied with the result; too many songs, and too many cooks in the studio kitchen, trying to “help” them with their creative decisions. The recording of The Muffs was frustrating, an emotional trial by fire. (For evidence of this, seek out the bonus track “Phone Message,” which captures the band’s A&R man David Katznelson addressing some hurtful gossip directed towards Kim. Silly as it may seem in retrospect, it’s really kind of sad, too.)
She’s right, of course. In The Muffs’ discography, The Muffs is the band’s weakest offering, not because it’s bad, but because it is the sound of a band trying to quickly form its identity, and yes, it is just a tad too long. Within the sixteen track album is a killer twelve-track album that would be one helluva debut album. Too many songs water down the album’s numerous standouts. The ironic part about that, though, is that none of the sixteen songs suck, and perhaps that is why they might have felt it hard to prune down the record.
The formula for the songs on The Muffs is the same formula they employed on their most recent album, Whoop Dee Doo: straightforward Ramones-style punk rock with a little hint of a pop sensibility that gives their songs a special kind of sweetness. It’s to their credit that the punch of songs like “Lucky Guy,” “Big Mouth,” and “Baby Go Round” have a potency that’s lost none of its punch in the twenty-two years since they were released. When one scratches the surface of the potent, confident vocals and often humorous lyrics, one discovers a vulnerability in Shattuck’s words that gives the song a universal appeal. The liner notes for the reissue feature Shattuck giving commentary on each song, and offer some enlightening, interesting facts about the band and the songs, sometimes revealing things on some of these that you’d never have known by simply reading the lyrics.
The bonus tracks add another eleven choice cuts, offering up rarities and home demos from the era. Two of the songs were previously released; “Everywhere I Go” was originally released on the cassette version of the album, and while the album version is great, this take is taut and sharply mixed, while the radio remix of “Lucky Guy” is more potent than the album version. With a clearer vocal mix, Shattuck’s vocals take on a rarely heard intensity, screaming her head off. The demos are rough and raw, and offer up a handful of unreleased songs. It’s a testament to Shattuck’s talents that the songs “Something On My Mind,” “Do You Like Her,” and “I Don’t Expect It” already sound great, even in stripped-down demo form.
The Muffs might not be a “perfect” record, but as an introduction to one of the best pop-punk bands of the 1990s, it served its purpose well. The lineup would soon change, they would become a power trio, and it’s to their credit that they only got better as a band. The Muffs is a satisfying, refreshing, and still-fresh sounding record, and remains a delightful listen, twenty-two years on.