Every good boy deserves, in addition to fudge, the chance to live next door to a garage band like Mudhoney. Fate, however, opted to slot me alongside feckless country club offspring with Guitar Hero-caliber chops; an endless arsenal of zero-chord songs about some hussy named Lisa (lyrically immortalized as “a real bitch with a capital ITCH”); and a fondness for early-morning jams replete with hollered implorations of “Take it away, Brad!” Mercifully, around this time, a brave little copy of Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles managed to negotiate the intimidating expanse between Seattle and my native Pittsburgh. All it took was the first plagued wail of “Touch Me I’m Sick”, and I had my rightful garage band, one that gigged the cozy confines of my bedroom while always respecting my sleeping schedule. The two decades since have seen Mudhoney graduate to Seattle icon status, do a stint with a major label, and make a “sheepish” silver screen cameo alongside Chris Farley, all while never bothering to outgrow that simple kids-in-a-garage ideology—a stasis that both charms and falls short on their latest record.
Vanishing Point, Mudhoney’s ninth full-length, continues the recent trend of cleaning up the band’s early fuzz without sacrificing their trademark youthful irreverence. Think of it as maturing without growing up, and it works here on a handful of tracks. From Dan Peters’ drumroll propulsion to guitarist Steve Turner’s track-punctuating soloing, everything about album opener “Slipping Away” hits its mark. In between, Mark Arm revives his classic one-line choruses and couples slacker poetry (“I try to hold you, but you’re like sand / Slipping through these broken hands”) with just plain slacking (“Baby, baby, oh, baby, yeah! / Ah, ah-ah-ah-ah, ah-oh, goddamn!”), all delivered in a thin voice on the verge of cracking, once again recalling kids in the garage.
Other sweet spots — where the mud and honey blend just right — include shout-sung single “I Like It Small”, a straight-ahead rocker that runs through Arm’s preference for relative minimalism both musically (“I’m good with Gladys sans the Pips”) and in the boudoir (“When I orgy, I cap it at 12”). In just a shade over four minutes, the episodic “The Final Course” spins a dirty-riffing tale of medieval-style gluttony, disputed paternity, misogyny, ultra-feminism, cold-blooded murder, out-of-body experience, and cannibalism (with Arm as the delicacy). It’s disturbing enough to make you want to travel back in time just to mortify your mother by playing it in her minivan on the way to soccer practice.
But while the predetermined acts of adolescence committed by these middle-aged men often sound as good now as they did 20 years ago, Vanishing Point also contains plenty of what Arm dubs “the neutral” — what falls between positive and negative outcomes — on slumbering clunker “What to Do with the Neutral”. The whiny, melodic “Sing This Song of Joy” also falls into that forgettable no-fan’s land, despite one of Arm’s more memorable cliché tweaks: “The world was your oyster / And, man, how you loved to shuck.” And as timeless as the sentiment may be, did the record really need to end with the self-explanatory “Douchebags on Parade”? It’s as if a lame bumper sticker joke morphed into a song.
In its brief 34 minutes, Vanishing Point delivers two primary messages: Mudhoney is still pretty damn good at being Mudhoney, and being Mudhoney isn’t as easy as you might suspect. In other words, juvenility with guitars — finding the right instrumental grime, lyrical clichés, and targets for hostility — in some flannel-clad sense, is a bit of an art. And it’s why that 14-year-old version of myself would have gladly taken the choice cuts off Vanishing Point, along with the entirety of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, and told my neighbor, Brad, to take it away… far, far away.
Essential Tracks: “Slipping Away”, “I Like It Small”, and “The Final Course”