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Mudhoney - Digital Garbage Music Album Reviews

The Seattle scuzz-punk pioneers deliver a grave diagnosis of a festering societal condition.

There are several readily available metrics that can help determine just how doomed our world truly is: increasing temperatures, rising ocean levels, species extinction rates, and so forth. But there is a less visible, arguably more accurate measure of gauging whether we’re flat out fucked: those moments when Mudhoney get political. While they’re never lacking in agitation and spite, the Seattle scuzz-punk pioneers tend to direct their ire at more, fish-in-a-barrel targets: posers, douchebags, themselves. But you know things in the world are really getting bad whenever Mudhoney remove tongue from cheek to deliver a grave diagnosis of a festering societal condition, be it the rise of evangelical extremism or neocon war pigs. And, in the never-ending shit show that is 2018, that latent impulse has been rudely re-awakened: Mudhoney’s latest album, Digital Garbage, feels less like a collection of songs than a news-saturated social-media feed filled with all the profane polemics of a 2 a.m. drunk-Tweet.

Earlier, this year, Mudhoney celebrated its 30th-anniversary by releasing LiE, a career-spanning live compilation that reified the timeless quality of their snot-nosed noise. Digital Garbage, on the other hand, is an album with no greater desire than to be dated as soon as possible—because that would at least be an encouraging sign that we’ve emerged from the world of shit in which this record is steeped. As the title suggests, Digital Garbage is Mudhoney’s comment on life in the internet age, though it’s most concerned with the insidious offline side effects of unfettered information dissemination. By Mudhoney standards, Digital Garbage’s relentless topicality practically makes it their first true concept album.

Mudhoney are hardly the only band fretting about the fate of humanity these days, but they are the only band with Mark Arm, whose sneering presence ensures that even the most woke proclamations will be in gloriously bad taste. Take the garage-rocker “Paranoid Core,” whose breathless stream of dog-whistled outrage—“Robots and aliens stealing jobs, they’re bringing drugs, they’ll rape your mom!/Beware the city’s dazzling lights where dykes are waiting to steal your wife!”—renders it a “We Didn’t Start the Fire” directed at InfoWars wackos. And as “Please Mr. Gunman” illustrates, dark days inevitably yield the blackest of humour, with Arm requesting that the titular shooter at least have the decency to mow him down “in church.” That may seem like an especially twisted way to commemorate the victims of Charleston; for Mudhoney, it’s a suitably absurd response to an absurd nation where even the most sacred public spaces aren’t safe from assault-rifle rampages.

But even Arm’s most acidic lyrics are tempered by some of the band’s tidiest performances to date. After spending much of 2013’s Vanishing Point fully inhabiting the role of aging cranks waging war on the kidz, Digital Garbage sounds more relaxed in its dad-punk skin. With few exceptions (like the Bad Seeds-style ICE-age lament “Night and Fog”), the spirit here is loose and playful, more Back in the USA than Kick Out the Jams. Arm and guitarist Steve Turner’s usual toxic-sludge fuzz is molded into more refined riffs and arrangements; look past the shotgunned guitar blasts and anti-religion rants of “21st Century Pharisees” and you’ll find a surprisingly soothing synth line holding it all together.

Still, even when compared to Mudhoney’s typical anti-pop, Digital Garbage makes few concessions to melodic accessibility, with Arm’s verbal splatter often forsaking such formalities as verse/chorus structure or rhyme schemes in favor of bluntly unsubtle diatribes. The album hits its manic peak with “Prosperity Gospel,” a rapid-fire inventory of late capitalism’s most odious traits (“Price-gouge medicine!/Let them eat death!/Get rich!/You win!”) that ends with a juvenile yet totally cathartic “fuck off!” But the track finds an unlikely sequel in “Messiah’s Lament,” wherein Arm gets to play the role of Jesus Christ, frowning upon the money-grubbing conservatives who like to thump the bible but seemingly pay no mind to the charity preached within. “Look at what they’re doing in my name,” Arm moans, as the song floats off in an acoustic psychedelic sway. It’s an uncharacteristically wistful turn, both in the context of this otherwise enraged album and Mudhoney’s entire muckraking career. But, thirty years after sardonically begging Jesus to take him to a higher place, the least Arm can do is sincerely return the favour.

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