When Mark Arm and Steve Turner formed Mudhoney out of the ashes of Green River in 1988, it seemed utterly inconceivable that the band would still be together making music 25 years later. The early years of Mudhoney were coloured by chaotic aggression and a wilful disregard for both their own safety and any notion of fitting into a music industry establishment. In conjunction with the nascent Seattle label Sub Pop, whose rise grew in tandem with their flagship band, Mudhoney blazed a trial for Nirvana and the entire grunge movement to follow.
Now on their ninth studio album and first since 2008, Mudhoney are grunge rock’s true survivors. Vanishing Point possesses all the same virtues that made them so thrilling back in the late ’80s. The band may be older but there’s still the same spirit running through this record as on their incendiary debut Superfuzz Bigmuff EP.
The Mudhoney aesthetic is a clearly defined sound that encompasses facets of proto ’60s punk, psych rock and a constant feel of propulsion. Vanishing Point ramps up all those aspects into a 30-minute blast of punk rock thrills. The music here makes absolutely no concessions to modernity and contemporary rock conceits. You could potentially label it a referential piece of throwback nostalgia but there’s far too much coursing energy in these 10 songs that make it a vital listen far beyond a tired attempt to recapture past glories.
From opener Slipping Away’s sleazy riffs and relentless punk rock attack it’s clear that you’re dealing with a band that have lost none of their capacity for chaos. Arm’s vocals sound typically unhinged as he wails away proclaiming: “I try to speak but I cannot talk.” Eventually he gives up as his voice descends into a series of primal yelps, screams and belches while the music rattles away around him. It makes for an powerful re-introduction to the Mudhoney sound.
Mudhoney have always been a band who revel in the guttural; they exemplify grunge in its literal sense. Indeed, it was Mark Arm who first coined the term. I Like It Small provides a perfect manifesto for the band and perhaps grunge itself. It’s a celebration of the dingy and fetid, an homage to the underground, the obscured and the disgusting. Arm delivers a series of proclamations in his distinctively whiney drawl, highlighting the little things he cherishes: “I’ll take GG Allin over Long Dong Silver every time,” he screams as the song careers into a euphoric rallying cry.
There’s a playfulness at work in Mudhoney’s sound that has been prevalent throughout their career. There’s no room for true emotion or introspective feelings. Instead, their music and lyrics are filled with a malevolent menace and dark humour; no one listens to a Mudhoney record for emotional succour. On the heaving lurch of In This Rubber Tomb, Arm comes across like a grunge rock mad professor proclaiming his individual status: “None of you really know where I am,” he growls, ensconced in his own dirty world.
Elsewhere, the album rushes through typical Mudhoney tropes with an air of an unhinged sonic assault. As the album progresses you get the sense of the band almost self mythologizing after a quarter of a century in existence. On the excellent rocker The Only Son Of The Widow From Nain, It’s a joy to hear Arm ominously howling “I’m coming back for more”. He’s not happy though, as “Fucking Lazarus got all the fame”.
Vanishing Point is a record that frequently thrills on a very base level; a 50-year-old man shouting about “douchebags on parade” should be embarrassing, but instead it’s rousing. An example of just how visceral the band’s theatrical anger is can be heard on album highlight Chardonnay. Here, Arm sounds like he is physically retching with anger as he delivers lyrics dripping with sneering disdain about the titular critic’s darling. Arm has no time for critic’s darlings, bellowing “Get the fuck out of my backstage”.
The fact that Mudhoney have endured for so long to even make this album is commendable in itself. The reality that Vanishing Point is such a vibrant and quintessential Mudhoney album makes it a real triumph.