Mudhoney is an American grunge/punk band based in Seattle, WA. Often called “the most important band you’ve never heard of,” the group’s early work following their formation in 1988 was released on Sub-Pop Records and was massively influential in the early grunge scene which eventually gave birth to the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and fellow Sub-Pop group, Nirvana. Unlike their label mates, however, Mudhoney has remained with Sub-Pop for the duration of their career with ten albums over three decades, each critically well received, but none finding commercial success.
The group is lauded for their heavy guitars, blues and punk influence, and brutally honest lyricism. Their sound is far less accessible than the bulk of grunge music thanks to their jarring sound and frontman Mark Arm’s unique singing voice. Nevertheless, Mudhoney has built quite a loyal following over the years, including a long list of very famous and influential fans, while continuing to work day jobs in their hometown. Now, 30 years after the band’s groundbreaking debut, Mudhoney is back with Digital Garbage, and it seems that they still have quite a bit to say.
The punk influences are worn directly on the sleeve in this album. Tracks like “Paranoid Core,” or “21st Century Pharisees” are pure punk rock jams complete with distorted guitars and metronomic high-hats. “Night and Fog,” even pulls a few post-punk inspirations, easily the most modern style featured on the record.
Steve Turner turns in the best performance of the group on guitars. “Hey Neanderf**k” leans entirely on his bluesy riffs and fuzzy distortion while his active play on the closer, “Oh Yeah,” makes the short, 90 second song more than worthy of wrapping up the project. He’s constantly moving, often toying with dissonance and rarely settling for simple chords and rhythm, giving Digital Garbage a constant forward motion throughout it’s 35-minute runtime.
The rest of the band works well with each other, showing off the kind of tightness that comes from three decades with only one substantial lineup change. The drums are fantastic on “Next Mass Extinction,” complementing the open blues tone set by the harmonica melodies, while the bass intro on the opener “Nerve Attack,” is the highlight of the admittedly tame track.
Lyrically, Digital Garbage is nothing short of pure, distilled punk of the political variety. Mark Arm’s criticism of modern culture is especially sharp when his gaze is fixed on the current state of organized religion on “Prosperity Gospel,” or my favorite cut, “Messiah’s Lament.” Here, he turns the scalpel of whit to the conjoined nature of American Christianity to the Republican Party and right wing ideology. This is nearly as sharp in “Kill Yourself Live,” as Arm lambasts today’s youth for their obsessions with social media and glorification of self-harm in addition to providing the albums title on an anthemic bridge.
My first and strongest criticism, however, comes on this same topic, namely in the lyrics to “Please Mr. Gunman,” which, I believe to be in quite bad taste. Of course, there are no topics off limits to artists, especially in punk rock, but the song sets out to tackle issues like mass shootings, religious hypocrisy, and national apathy, doing so with the grace of thirteen year old arguing with their teacher. I won’t use the term “offensive,” because, as I said, no topic is off the table to good writing, but issues like these need tact and nuance, which they are not afforded on this, the worst track on the album.
Arm’s voice, though unique, can be a bit much at a few moments. At times, he is a dynamic leader, and at times, he sounds like Weird Al Yankovic trying his hand at punk rock. In addition, the album has a tendency to be a bit one-note, with many songs sounding very similar, though the short runtime and energetic spirit helps smooth this over.
Digital Garbage is a fun listen and in many respects, it’s one of the bravest punk records of the last decade. The political statements on this album are the kind of brash, boldfaced lyrics that are rarely heard outside of the underground. A hugely influential rock band with a catalog full of classics, it’s good to hear Mudhoney still working and putting out such high quality work.
While Digital Garbage isn’t perfect, it is yet another strong showing for the most important band you’ve never heard of.
HEAR DIGITAL GARBAGE: https://open.spotify.com/album/3VlqKyu14rAorKhWFStRMY