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Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff (1988)

This year has marked not only the 30th anniversary of Sub Pop Records, but also the 30th anniversary of this seminal debut release by one of the label’s signature bands. So it seemed like ample time to talk about Superfuzz Bigmuff, considering the venerable Seattle record label is celebrating it’s anniversary in a big ‘ol free concert in theirs (and my) hometown this weekend, which Mudhoney will be performing at. Now, I know I am kinda fudging the prerequisites of “Classic Album Tuesdays” by writing about an EP. But considering Superfuzz has been re-released multiple times over the years in extended versions that reach album length, it seemed ok. Especially when it seems as good a representation as any of the sludgy, energetic records that Sub Pop first made its name on.

You could basically say that this record was ground zero for grunge. Though, you’d only be half right. I suppose the short-lived Seattle band Green River is usually considered the first grunge band, while after the band broke up, its members went on to form Mother Love Bone (which morphed into Pearl Jam) and Mudhoney. Of course, this Mark Arm/Steve Turner fronted project would never become as massively successful as the “big four” grunge bands to emerge from Seattle in the early ’90s (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice and Chains). But listening to this record, you can tell they (thankfully) were never quite cut out for that kind of mainstream success, since they’re a little goofier and punkier than those bands. And I think that’s what’s always made them the forever cool outsiders to emerge from that scene, and other than Pearl Jam, the only one’s still left standing.

You can hear a lot of the hallmarks of what would be associated with grunge on Superfuzz Bigmuff – big heavy riffs, insatiable energy, and impassioned vocals that walk the line between harsh and melodic. I can’t say that Mark Arm is the most objectively great vocalist to come out of the grunge scene (it’s hard to compete with Cobain and Cornell), but he might be the most fun to listen to. Not only do his lyrics have the dark humor that would be found in a lot of grunge bands (though were mostly lost on the music press), but the way he can turn a croon into a scream reminds me a lot of Iggy’s work with The Stooges, who I’ve always kinda thought Mudhoney were the heirs apparent to.

One thing you can hear in a lot of the grunge bands, and in a lot of the black and white photographs taken by Charles Peterson at the time, is the feeling of these sweaty Northwest dudes bouncing off of each other musically. I don’t know if it’s because Seattle bands are forced to spend a lot of time indoors with each other, but there’s this kind of unrelenting, explosive chemistry you feel on this record. And while the rest of the country seemed to interpret grunge’s ethos as doom and gloom, in these earlier years, outside the eyes of mainstream music, it sounds more like a bunch of young guys having the time of their lives.

Favorite Tracks: “Touch Me, I’m Sick”, “Need”, “In ‘n’ Out of Grace”