Plastic Eternity by MudhoneyRelease date: April 7, 2023
Label: Sub Pop
Alright losers. Let’s fuzz.
America’s garage punk sweethearts and surprisingly durable ‘godfathers of grunge or whatever’, Mudhoney have a new record out. Plastic Eternity marks the band’s 35th year and brings us another chunk of their dirty garage rock moves and darkly amused scorn. Of course you love Mudhoney, what’s wrong with you? They’re only the band Nirvana could have been.
Mudhoney shed their grunge weight and plaid straightjacket early. Rather than burning out at the end of the 90’s they staggered home to Sub Pop and found a comfortable rhythm of rehearsing, writing and making records whenever they felt ready. Recently that happy process was ambushed by the pandemic and put under time pressure by bassist Guy Maddison’s return to live in Australia (where the band are touring following this release). So, where the studio has usually been a place for them to capture the songs they’ve written, on Plastic Eternity it’s also where they were pieced together.
This has resulted in a generally cleaner and more open feel to the album. Rather than feeling rushed it is, if anything, a touch too tidy and well organised. There’s still plenty of Steve Turner’s sweet distorted guitar but rather than starting with riffs they built everything upwards from the rhythm section. Dan Peters’ nimble swing has always helped set them apart. As the years go by he shines ever brighter, avoiding the sluggish plodding that takes hold of rock drummers like rust on an old truck. His brisk, rattling, snare opens the album directly into ‘Souvenir of My Trip’ a slow burn of slithering guitar squalls and theremin wails.
‘Almost Everything’ adds some bongo breakout propulsion to its limb wriggling heavy psych. Its constantly morphing video is almost something you could imagine The Flaming Lips using, although Mudhoney’s stripe of psych is much darker and heavier than the Lips’ candy coloured skies. Knowing just how far they can push the basic template of their sound in other directions without breaking it is another of their low key strengths. ‘Cascades of Crap’ is almost country rock and brings in the album’s main theme, which is how we’re choking the life out of our planet with useless plastic junk while acting dumb about it.
‘Flush the Fascists’ stays with the toilet imagery and is less a song than a weird chant, delivered with a sneer over a steady electro pulse. Mark Arm’s concerns may have matured a little but he’s still venting frustrations with the absurdity of humanity in general, a middle finger salute to just how badly we all suck. ‘Here Comes The Flood’ pokes at Fox news conspiracy garbage while ‘Human Stock Capital’ packs a pretty clear outline of how we’re all just expendable cogs in the economic machine into a two minute punk screed. Mostly the lyrics are better when they’re less direct. ‘Move Under’ is a real standout, that classic Mudhoney surge brightened with some call and response backing vocals. You know it’s going to be a winner live, in fact most of the record feels like it’ll be all the better for some road miles under its belt. Similar energy fires the wild and apocalyptic ‘Cry Me An Atmospheric River’, where Arm imagines the weather’s indifference to our plight, and the slamming ‘Plasticity’ on which he briefly even reminds me of Jello Biafra.
After that quintessentially Mudhoney blast of rage they throw us a calming curveball to close out. ‘Little Dogs’ is an oddity about how much Mark loves his little canine buddy. The bonus track vibes are strong here and the tune’s vaguely surf feel is bright and lightweight but it does gift us the line “If you let ’em outside at night, watch out for owls” and how can you not be charmed by that?
My love for Mudhoney has never wavered. They embody a certain distilled essence, punk rock howl. Is that love now doing some heavy lifting at the 35 year mark? Well, maybe. I know it’s largely based on their live prowess and flawless debut Superfuzz Bigmuff, but if later recordings struggle to match it with consistency, it’s still frankly more than enough. They’ve worn the impact of that record lightly and made a smooth transition from being young and pissed off to old and grouchy because they’ve never taken themselves too seriously. Always gazing with despair on the world’s idiot parade. They’ve avoided the common fate of making the same record with ever diminishing returns by shaking up their box of tricks just enough each time out. On Plastic Eternity this results in a strong set of songs that doesn’t quite hang together like a classic Mudhoney album, it’s a touch too clean maybe but there’s still a lot to enjoy here.