Like all music styles, Grunge did not start with its most successful proponents. That combination of reckless Punk passed through beer drenched Garage Rock took years to develop and there were many hands on the tiller. If names like Mr. Epp and the Calculations, Student Nurse, the Melvins and Green River ring a bell, you were either living in Seattle in the late '80s or on Sub-Pop Records' lengthy mailing list.
The Mudhoney story begins with Green River (named after an actual Seattle-area river where a serial killer's victims were often found). The band had vocalist Mark McLaughlin, soon to be Mark Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Alex Vincent and a couple future members of Pearl Jam; guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament.
This group released a couple EPs and a full-length set before internal tensions blew the thing apart in '88. Ament and Gossard formed Mother Love Bone, a direct forerunner of Pearl Jam, and Vincent went to law school.
Meanwhile, Mudhoney was born when Turner and Arm added bassist Matt Lukin and drummer Dan Peters. The name was lifted from a Russ Meyer film none of them had seen. Perfect.
Later in '88, Sub Pop released the group's debut single, "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More" b/w " "Touch Me I'm Sick." As sometimes happens, the flip side proved more popular as the group resonated with the indie/college radio crowd. Their EP "Superfuzz Bigmuff" came out just as the buzz about the "Seattle Sound" was taking hold. A U.S. trek failed to garner much but the band nailed a European tour on their own before hitting the U.K. as an opening act for Sonic Youth. Their self-titled full-length album hit the following year.
A group's talent may get them noticed but it's up to the label to sell records. Sub-Pop, even with Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney on its roster was in a seemingly perpetual state of financial disarray. The release of Mudhoney's second effort "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" was delayed. Meanwhile, both Soundgarden and Nirvana signed with major labels and reaped the rewards. Finally, "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" dropped in '91.
Mudhoney's followed their ex-label mates and signed the big deal. Reprise/Warner Brothers released "Piece Of Cake" thinking they had "the next big thing." Too bad it didn't turn out that way. There were all sorts of excuses/explanations for why the album didn't sell. Mudhoney had gone corporate (being on a major label hadn't hurt Soundgarden or Nirvana) and/or the album wasn't mainstream enough (possible, but after all this was Grunge). Maybe they just got lost in the shuffle. Whatever the reason, Mudhoney missed their moment. Though the group continued to record ("My Brother The Cow" and "Tomorrow Hit Today") and remained a strong live draw, it was clear Reprise had turned their attention elsewhere.
After a supporting tour for "Tomorrow Hit Today" ('99) Reprise dropped the group. Mudhoney proved that even being in on the ground floor of a major trend was no guarantee of success. To add insult to injury, Lukin bailed saying he didn't like touring. With a new bass player in tow, Mudhoney returned for some live dates in '01 and, after returning to Sub-Pop, released "Since We've Become Translucent," a year later. It took four years before Mudhoney was heard from again. Their '06 outing was the 11-track "Under A Billion Suns."
1991 Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge
1992 Piece Of Cake
1995 My Brother the Cow
1998 Tomorrow Hit Today
2002 Since We've Become Translucent
2006 Under a Billion Suns
2008 The Lucky Ones
2013 Vanishing Point
It's one of Rock's great mysteries: "Why wasn't Mudhoney bigger?" Perhaps they needed an outside heavy hitter like Nirvana's Dave Grohl to put them over the top. Who knows. They were like the Grunge version of the Replacements. Always there, doing good/great stuff but never quite getting the traction to break through.
Listening to "Mudhoney," "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" and even "Piece Of Cake," it is clearly all there - dense and forceful guitars, powerful rhythm section and Arm's sneering, down in the gutter vocals. Turner was certainly no slacker as a songwriter. So what gives?
From "Mudhoney," the Garage-Metal "This Gift" is brilliant. Also check out "You Got It ("you got it and you can keep it"). "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" contains the catchy yet driving "Let It Slide." "Piece Of Cake" has the Speed Metal-Grunge "No End In Sight" and the jangling "Blinding Sun." All three albums have more than enough to recommend.
The key challenge for a group like Mudhoney is to stay relevant without becoming repetitive and predictable. "Under A Billion Suns," largely succeeds. The set has elements of Punk ("It Is Us"), Blues-Rock ("I Saw The Light") and a sharp dose of Black Sabbath ("Hard-On For War"). While "In Search Of" proves Mudhoney can deliver droning guitar lines they are far better served (and the listener too) when Turner's guitar roars through chord changes and potent riffs on "A Brief Celebration Of Indifference." Lyrically, Arm can still mine the angst depths and even deliver an anti-war call (the aforementioned "Hard-On For War").