SOUNDGARDEN – DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (1996)

MUDHONEY – SUPERFUZZ BIGMUFF (1988)

October 20th, 1988, MUDHONEY released their debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff, on Sub Pop Records. “They were exciting. They were funny. Matt Lukin always slapped his ass. This was a big thing for him, slapping his own ass. There was an irreverence to them that was palpable and appreciated.” offers renowned Seattle illustrator Ed Fotheringham, recalling the early days of Mudhoney. Corralling former members of Green River, Bundle Of Hiss and (the) Melvins, Mudhoney burned bright from their inception.

With the searing Superfuzz Bigmuff, Mudhoney pointed a blowtorched to the faces of an unsuspecting rock audience with their punk/garage/indie-rock fusion. Their attitude and irreverence toward the established norms of being a rock n roll band was exciting and hilarious. Alternative rock bands plying their trade in 1988 were still part of the underground. The incredible shift in public attention toward alternative music and culture didn’t come for another three years. Hair metal still ruled the rock world, standing as proud and unfazed as the birthday candles on an asthmatic child’s birthday cake.

Mark Arm and Steve Turner had been in and out of bands together since 1981. Their first foray into rock stardom, Mr. Epp and the Calculations formed in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. They named the band after their high-school math teacher. Mr. Epp and the Calculations (minus Steve Turner) began as a “joke” band, performing using rolled-up maps as guitars because they couldn’t play any instruments. With the addition of guitarist Steve Turner from the Seattle band The Ducky Boys (which also featured Stone Gossard), the band knuckled down on their musicianship, but kept their humour intact.

In 1983, three Mr Epp songs were included on the First Strike Compilation, the first cassette in the BCT catalogue. Bad Compilation Tapes, or Borderless Countries Tapes, was an independent hardcore punk label founded in 1981 by Chris Chacon and Dave W. in San Diego, California. Soon after, Mr. Epp and the Calculations appeared on KZAM radio in Seattle and were introduced as “the worst band in the world.” They played their last show on February 3rd, 1984, with future Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood’s band Malfunkshun at Seattle’s Metropolis.

Cast adrift after the break-up of Mr Epp, Arm and Turner recruited drummer Alex Turner for a new project. Bassist Jeff Ament joined the band after arriving in Seattle with his band Deranged Diction. Turner’s former bandmate in The Ducky Boys, Stone Gossard, was recruited as second guitarist. Green River recorded their debut EP, Come on Down, in 1985; often considered the first “grunge” record, it was released several months before the Deep Six compilation album (which featured music by Green River and five other Pacific Northwest bands).

Turner left Green River after the release of Come On Down due to his distaste for the band’s hard rock leanings. He was replaced by another Deranged Diction member, Bruce Fairweather. The band recorded another EP called Dry As a Bone and a full-length album entitled Rehab Doll. Tensions between band members about their musical direction caused them to split in late 1987. Gossard, Ament, and Fairweather went on to form Mother Love Bone with Malfunkshun’s Andrew Wood. Following Wood’s death in 1990, Gossard and Ament formed Pearl Jam, and Fairweather joined Love Battery.

With Turner and Arm cast adrift like human croutons on the soup of the Seattle punk rock scene. They decided to join forces yet again. Teaming up with Bundle Of Hiss drummer Dan Peters in January of 1988, they began songwriting at a ferocious pace. Enter Matthew David Lukin. Bassist Matt Lukin founded (the) Melvins in 1983 with Buzz Osborne and Mike Dillard in Montesano, Washington. Lukin recorded the band’s legendary early demo collection, Mangled Demos from 1983; Six Songs (later repackaged as 8 Songs, 10 Songs and then 26 Songs); their debut album, Gluey Porch Treatments, and appeared on the Deep Six compilation.

In 1987, the band temporarily dissolved. According to Lukin, Osborne had told him that he was going to relocate to San Francisco to live with then-girlfriend Lori Black and that the Melvins would be disbanding as a result. Lukin later found out that drummer Dale Crover had also moved down there, and they hired Black to play bass in the revived version of the band.

Feeling duped, Lukin was looking for a new band at the same time Turner, Arm and Peters were looking for a bass player. Once the four-piece was complete the band needed a name, settling on the title of the 1965 Russ Meyer movie Mudhoney. Seattle’s Sub Pop Records immediately signed the band. Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt said, “Unlike Nirvana, Mudhoney wrote most of their best material immediately upon their formation. Their first show at Seattle’s Vogue in April of ’88 was out-of-the-box devastating. Instant band. Great songs.”

Sub Pop released Mudhoney’s debut single, “Touch Me I’m Sick”, on August 1st, 1988. The song’s raw, primal energy made it an instant anthem which still stands as one of alternative rock’s all-time classics. Backed with the B-Side (and another instant classic) “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” Mudhoney were on fire right out of the gate.

The band recorded Superfuzz Bigmuff at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington, with producer Jack Endino between July and August 1988. Named after two of the band’s favourite guitar effects pedals: the Univox Super-Fuzz and the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, which helped to provide the band’s signature “dirty” sound.

The EP opens with “Need,” Mark Arm sings over a lone gritty electric guitar, “Give me love laced with lies, There ain’t much I haven’t tried.” The band falls in with a sludgy grind. Dan Peters’ blasting snare rolls and propulsive drive is impeccable. “Chain That Door” opens with Peters rollicking, tom-heavy drum pattern, which resembles but pre-dates Matt Cameron’s tour de force on Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose” from 1991. Guitars thrash and burn with a thick, gluey fuzz tone as the song spirals in controlled chaos toward an abrupt end.

Mark Arm sings, “I got a mouth full of dirt, A handful full of charms, Got a rusty old spade, Don’t care who I harm, Take you down to the dirt, Drag you through the mud,” on “Mudride,” a sludgy dirge, replete with impossibly opaque, thick droning guitar tones and an enveloping sense of dread. Despite the heaviness, “Mudride” is obnoxiously infectious.

Matt Lukins’ sledgehammer bass on “No One Has” catapults the song through a mire of squalling noise and rampant drums. Hook-filled slide guitar parts swim in and out of the mix as Mark Arm delivers a hot-blooded sermon, Stooges era Iggy would be proud of.

The resigned, blown-out, half-time verses of “If I Think” gives way to a jerky, stop/start caterwauling rage of the chorus. Arm sings, “I forgot how to cry, I forgot I could die, And I’m so sick of what I need, I could close my eyes and fall, If I think, I think of you.”

The final track, “In And Out Of Grace,” has become another Mudhoney classic. Mark Arm said, “The main riff of that came from Matt. And then Steve or I – I’m not sure who – floated the idea of throwing in a bass and drum break, with a crazy double guitar solo, like something off the first Blue Cheer record.” The track’s intro uses a sample from the 1966 film The Wild Angels starring Peter Fonda. The band sampled Fonda’s monologue, “We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the man.”

With Superfuzz Bigmuff, Mudhoney emerged from the underground with a wicked, mischievous zeal. Creating memorable, tense and dramatic musical structures with Turner’s scalping guitars, Mark Arm’s raging vocals, Matt Lukin’s filthy, chugging and inspired bass and Dan Peters’ propulsive drums. Sub Pop later re-released the album in 1990 as Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles.

Mudhoney were off to a blazing start, with a confidence and energy that dragged all who heard their compelling din into their net, the band set out their stall as the standard bearers of the nascent Seattle scene. Mudhoney’s white-hot intensity was evident from the get-go. Such vigour and passion usually burn brightest but eventually fizzles out. But Mudhoney has defied the odds; they’re as vital today as in 1988.

Essential…!