I won’t live long, and I’m full of rot
Gonna give you – girl – everything I got
Not coming to you inside a greetings card anytime soon, that right there is pretty much the essence of Mudhoney Superfuzz Bigmuff. Like most truly cool things I only got into it 8 years after it came out, pouncing on it in a second-hand record shop in Chester market in 1996. I’d heard ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’, probably but it was all a bit too ramshackle for my tastes way back when, Mudhoney always got called sloppy, dirty, half-assed in reviews and that didn’t appeal to me so much back then. What a sap!
My copy isn’t anything cool on Sub Pop, but a cheap European reissue on Glitterhouse Records – the German label that had the contract for reissuing Seattle’s finest over here. No luxury 180g vinyl relic here, it feels like cheap and disposable cultural detritus, which is the point entirely. Russ Meyer would have been proud.
To be honest you don’t even need to listen to the whole of Superfuzz Bigmuff to get what it’s all about, in fact I’d argue you don’t even have to listen to a whole track. Just cue up ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ drop the needle on and listen while Mark Arm burps and then that riff cuts in, sounding cheap, tinny, frenetic and just utterly, utterly compelling – that’s it, that’s all you really need; just like the manner in which you can extract DNA from any cell in the body, that opening pretty much gives you the grunge genome. But if you’re the sort of unimaginative dullard who actually listens to songs and albums and stuff I’ll go on; honestly, you people! There’s yowling sarcasm, self-loathing and an all round desire to kick up a stink right here, Mark Arm always said the lyrics meant nothing much but I think they’re quite telling – we get disease, sex and all the good stuff literally dripping out of this song. Drums, bass and guitar pound away like the Stooges never left the building and the whole thing sounds like a bootleg recording of some impossibly hyper Pebbles-era track. It is a work of low down genius.
It gets even better from there with ‘Chain That Door’ borne aloft on some SERIOUS drumming from Dan Peters, it sets off at a pure hardcore/thrash metal pace, guitar and bass fused together into a single low-end roar and all the melody coming from Mark Arm’s vocals. It sounds like a serious attempt to pare down 20 years of rock and punk into its’ barest essence and it tastes great! Next up is ‘Mudride’ (‘I got a mouthful of dirt and a handful of charm’) at 5:44 this is borderline epic territory as they come on like the hybrid of Stooges ‘Dirt’ and something Sabbath almost wrote for their first LP. Make no mistake, look beyond the backwoods idiot savant shtick that Mudhoney peddled from time to time, there is some serious 60’s influenced playing going on here. This is what too many small-town nights spent hotboxing and listening to gnarly mix tapes made by friends’ brothers leads to, without fail. This is my favourite track here by far, or at least until I flip Superfuzz Bigmuff* over and hit Side B.
The spritely ‘No One Has’ is next out the (hot)box and if you cleaned it up and gave it a sheen of chrome you’d be squarely in metal territory with this one, ‘I lost my mind a million times’ Arm sings and you know what? I believe him. ‘If I Think’ is a gentle-starting rant and listening with the benefit of hindsight you can hear that stop/start, loud/quiet dynamic perfectly that other label mates would develop to such startling success later, although this being Mudhoney you need to listen through the fuzz a bit. This is another keeper.
So how do you end a six-tracker like this one? spectacularly, that’s how. Riding in on the wings of Wild Angels samples**, we get ‘In ‘n’ Out Of Grace’ launched at us like a bowling ball dropped from an overpass. This sounds outrageously loud even at low volume and again the playing is anything but sloppy – damn dirty, but not sloppy. The quiet passages abutted by the fabulously out-of-tune loud guitars afterwards just evoke every Led Zep adrenalin burst you wish you were old enough to have been hit by first time around. Mark Arm again puts in a sterling shift on the mic, nothing half-assed there either.
Listening to Superfuzz Bigmuff in 2014 I’m struck by how classic sounding it is, this is great earthy boondocks rock rather than the hardcore punk offshoot we were told it was back in 1988, I think it has aged so much better as a result of all those classic rock tropes being locked away in there. I never bought another Mudhoney LP, although I’ve got a couple of singles and tracks on lots of various compilations, I just couldn’t see them ever getting better than this haggard beauty.
Honourable props must go to the cover photographer on Superfuzz Bigmuff Charles Peterson, I think his images had every bit as much to do with the creation of the whole scene, with his incredible album covers, not sparing a detail of any unflattering pose, every bad haircut, tangled guitar lead and shitty little stage pasted up front and centre. His book, Touch Me I’m Sick, is a wonderful document of the whole scene and era and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the Seattle scene, or just great music photography.
*Btw you do know it was named after two FX pedals don’t you? It’s not remotely rude at all. In any way.
**you know all that ‘we want to get loaded’ jazz that Primal Scream used on, umm, ‘Loaded’.