Staying together as a rock band for twenty years is an achievement like collecting every issue of mX for twenty years is an achievement. It’s impressive, but did you really have to?
Musically speaking, Mudhoney are perched safely on the peak of that heap of fuzz-box bands who periodically come out of the darkness of their stalactite-barnacled caves to release the same record another time round. The prize you get for listening to Mudhoney is less drama than Dinosaur Jr., less neurosis than Sebadoh and far less jockishness than Guided By Voices.
The fact that Mark Arm sounds like Iggy Pop – and I mean exactly like him – is one of those tidbits about the band that’s getting rather exhaustive. Okay, he sounds like Iggy. Does that make the music better? Worse? The band sounds like The Stooges too. So do a lot of other bands, many of whom were given the mandate to replicate the Stooges by Mudhoney.
But while Iggy has taken to sullying the Stooges’ once-immaculate canon with frankly retarded records, Mudhoney are actually incapable of doing any wrong.
Vanishing Point opens with jazzbo drums and a rolling bass line, which force you to make sure you didn’t accidentally chuck on a Primus record. Never fear, ‘Baby, baby / Oh, baby yeah’ and the clincher ‘Ah uh uh ah / Uh oh god damn’. Arm sings less like Iggy and more like a cross between Mick Jagger and the squeaky-voiced nerd from The Simpsons. The music may be boneheaded but just as the band was always smarter than they let on, their playing too has always been more proficient than they’d ever let their fans know.
Fun times come in the form of ‘What to Do with the Neutral’. ‘Embrace the positive / Reject the negative / What about the neutral which is neither here nor there?’ It’s a good question. Mudhoney’s greatest asset has always been their lack of irony, even when they’re being ironic. ‘I need Billy Preston to unlock this mystery’ sings Arm, still snot-nosed after all the years.
Chardonnay probably really is about wine, which figures. But it fulfills the ‘2-minute burst of Teen Idles-like energy’ quota for this album quite well. The Final Course is damn groovy and The Only Son of the Widow of Nain is good for the line ‘Fucking Lazarus got all the fame’.
Vanishing Point is an uplifting album. It’s uplifting because it has the gall to assert that just because you live in the shadow of a song that you wanted to make a b-side, you can still have a lot of fun because you’re in a band. But Vanishing Point is important because it (inadvertently) asks the question: ‘what’s left in the creative well when the fury of teenage sexual frustration is a receded memory and Viagra is a very real and viable enterprise?’