It’s odd to think that, back in the very early ’90s, it was Mudhoney who were the Seattle band most likely to break big. Songs like Touch Me I’m Sick and Here Comes Sickness saw them break out of the Pacific Northwest and garner an international audience, and word quickly spread about their chaotically thrilling live show. Then, Nirvana met Butch Vig, and the music scene was never quite the same again.
Nirvana’s story is, of course, well documented, but Mudhoney have quietly forged a successful career over the past thirty years. Digital Garbage is their 10th studio album and you’d be forgiven for thinking, listening to the energy and anger bursting out of the speakers, that it was a new release from a band half their age.
For Mark Arm and company have taken a look at today’s America and they’re not best pleased with what they see. Digital Garbage is a blistering call to arms against Trump’s America, against the rise of the alt-right, and against the gun lobby and religious hypocrisy. For, if we’re all going to hell in a handcart, we may as well go down screaming to a good soundtrack.
Paranoid Core sets out the band’s stall from the off, with Arm (who sounds more and more like Iggy Pop with every passing year) spitting out a list of base fears that sounds ever so like Donald Trump’s campaign launch speech – “Robots and aliens stealing jobs they’re bringing drugs, they’ll rape your mom…” – before namechecking every alt-right conspiracy theory you can tick off (“vaccines, chemtrails, false flag plots”).
There’s also a very dark sense of humour at play on a lot of tracks – albeit the sort of humour that a lot of people will consider near the knuckle. Please Mr Gunman sees victims of a mass shooting beg to be shot in church instead of outside (“don’t be such an inconsiderate prick”) while Kill Yourself Live is Arm taking social media to its inevitable macabre conclusion: “Kill yourself live, you’ll never be more famous…everyone will be watching on their little screens…do it for the likes”. Admittedly, this is perilously close to Win Butler’s sneering about “the kids”, and it certainly skirts close to the boundaries of mockery of mental health issues, but taken as a statement about narcissism, it hits the mark.
The one-liners come thick and fast, although the pace is so frantic you may miss them. At times it’s reminiscent of Jello Biafra’s Dead Kennedys, especially on 21st Century Pharisees, which takes aim at the “evangelical hypocrites… sanctimonious pieces of shit”, although the less successful Night And Fog takes the interest down a notch by descending into sludgy desert rock.
Generally though, the pace and passion of Digital Garbage can take the breath away. Prosperity Gospel is an astonishingly brutal tirade against….well, everything, which sees Arm screaming “fuck the planet, screw your children” before ending with a suitably cathartic “Get rich, you win – fuck off”. Even the more reflective moments have a burning passion boiling underneath, such as Messiah’s Lament which visualises Jesus back on Earth, bemoaning “what they’re doing in my name, these days”.
It’s a short (34 minute), sharp shock to the system from a band who you could quite forgive if they’d prefer to rest on past glories. As it is, you probably wouldn’t have started 2018 predicting that a 50-something bunch of grunge-era survivors would produce one of the most startling, exciting and vital albums of the year, but the sheer strangeness of the times dictates that that’s exactly what’s happened.