Sub Pop’s evergreen hometown band releases its first EP in 25 years
Album: Morning In America
Label: Sub Pop
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Morning in America serves as something of adjunct to last year’s Digital Garbage, the album that bore witness to Mudhoney’s quite unexpected transformation from grunge meisters to political animals.
And why not? The ongoing turmoil of our current affairs has got everybody on edge these days, and Mudhoney’s no exception.
Some tracks on the EP have previously appeared on various non-album releases; one’s a bonus track from the Japanese version of Digital Garbage; some are outtakes. Now all have been gathered together in one easily accessible package. The title track is one of those outtakes, and it’s clear from the first line (“America hates itself”) that it’s really mourning in America; the sun might have risen, but the outlook is still bleak. The music’s slow dirge readily matches the down spirited lyrical mood: “America rolls out of bed and looks in the mirror/and can’t believe what it sees.” Which pretty well sums it up.
And you don’t have to look far to find the source of our ongoing torment; that would be the “Snake Oil Charmer,” a number with the roiling power of a Sex Pistols song, about a fella who promises much but delivers nothing. And here’s the clever thing; the song doesn’t just attack the silver-tongued devils among us. It also points the finger at their deluded followers, who make their rise possible.
Mark Arm has the perfect bawling voice for these laments, caustic but not uncaring. “Creeps Are Everywhere” is a tight, taut piece (at 2:09, it’s the album’s shortest song), with Arm maintaining enough spirited rage in his voice to keep the lyrical theme from becoming too depressing. “Vortex of Lies” is trademark Mudhoney, powerful and pummeling, Arm reciting a litany of horrors, though there’s a measure of hope in the call to arms in the chorus: “Kick ‘em square in their tubular balls!” Down, but not out. Not yet.
Remember “Kill Yourself Live” from Digital Garbage? “Do it for the ‘likes’!” Arm urged, and you can live on in cyberspace forever. Well, every dance craze deserves a sequel, and Mudhoney crosses into Chubby Checker territory with the happily cynical “Let’s Kill Yourself Live Again” (“Just like we did last Winter”). Then there’s a cover of the Leather Nun’s “Ensam I Natt (So Lonely Tonight),” a discordant match of energetic music and lyrical despair; no hope on this outing.
This seven-song serving comes to a mordant close with a new version of “One Bad Actor” (an earlier version appeared on a split single with Hot Snakes). There’s no way out here either; this is graveyard blues, with the Bad Actor in question ready to burn it all down. “My middle finger is on the button,” Arm howls at the song’s conclusion, “Think of me, when you become nothing!” Ah, well. C’est la vie.
AUDIO: Mudhoney Morning In America (full EP)
Morning in America will only be available in vinyl and digital editions.