Mudhoney - Under a Billion Suns
Produced by Phil Ek, Johnny Sangster, and Tucker Martine
With a voice as recognizable as Tom Waits', Mark Arm bellows "I'm looking right at you, baby / but it don't mean s***" ("Blindspots") which closes the vigorous ninth album from one of the most influential bands to tear from the upper left of the US map. Seattle's Mudhoney continues to confront the banality of the modern age, singing mantras to the face of a superficial culture through destitute lyrics and fuzzy guitars, but in this round Arm and cohorts tackle a series of new concepts for the Mudhoney repertoire in Under A Billion Suns.
It's amazing how Mudhoney has changed over the years, and more significant, how they have not. Granted, tossing into an album a few blasts from a beefy horn section is a red herring to Mudhoney normality, but horns alone won't fork the band into obscurity. Inspecting beyond the horn section, the band is still spooning the familiar gnarled sludgy punk. However, the more astute fan will discover lyrical differentiation, a transition from the neck-breaker surrealism to gritty political frustrations, Arm singing the infectious opener, "where is the future that was promised us / I'm sick to death of this one," ("Where is the Future") and accusing all of us for being the enemy of trust and then, like a U-turn on a freeway, Arm loses control repeating, "happy days are here again" ("It is Us"). Another highlight, "Blindspots," is as vintage-Mudhoney as the album gets, the song, a throwback to the group's prestigious pre-grunge landmark, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991).
The danger zone for most musicians is playing political fare. Politically minded songs have two inherent flaws: timeliness, and political bias. The great thing about Mudhoney entering the political arena at their twenty-year benchmark is the wisdom they reflect onto the listener. The political songs don't dabble in self-righteousness or political megalomania; instead the album takes on humanity as a whole. Man created brutality to man, and so man can defeat it: here's the soundtrack. (Sub Pop Records)