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Mudhoney - Under a Billion Suns

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Artist: Mudhoney

Album: Under a Billion Suns

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Jun. 18, 2006

Mudhoney dropped Under a Billion Suns in March to zero fanfare. Despite nine quality albums, the world, it seemed, had moved on from Mudhoney a long time ago. A bunch of young turks had seized the wheel of the post-Stooges van and were steering it down some freaky new highways while Mudhoney was off on Interscope. (Of course this is a rather unfair jibe as My Brother the Cow and Tomorrow Hits Today are actually very good records.) So what’s a band to do that sticks to its guns and produces some of the finest sludgy blues-punk this side of Blue Cheer? Well, for starters, add horns. Call it a gimmick or a last-ditch effort at reinvention, whatever the case, but it works. Mudhoney’s songs contained a musical and lyrical ferocity that made the band’s fairly straightforward punk songs truly rage, so when the horns come blaring through on “Where is the Future” and “Let’s Drop In” the mood can sound downright epic.

Not all of the songs on Under a Billion Suns contain horns, which is a smart decision on the band’s part as it spares the listener too much of a good thing and also returns the focus to the impressive musicianship Mudhoney has been honing for decades now. “On the Move” is a tight and blistering headbanger; “I Saw the Light” reaches a woozy psychedelic apex in under two minutes and thirty seconds, a feat of musical economy that can only come from years of endless jamming; and “Endless Yesterday” sounds like the great lost Crazy Horse song Neil Young never got around to penning.

It’s worth mentioning that, like Neil, Mudhoney decided to get political for their most recent record – much to the chagrin of critics. “Uh oh, Mudhoney has an agenda,” they gasped. While it’s certainly true that several songs on Suns (most obviously “Hard on For War”) reveal a band clearly pissed off at its government, when has Mudhoney ever not been pissed off at something? Mark Arm is arguably one of the most irritable and ornery lyricists in rock: if it’s not Seattle, it’s grunge… or god…or girls. This is no newly enlightened activist outfit here; rather it would seem it’s much easier to get worked up over the proverbial state of the things in 2006 than any of the aforementioned issues.

Mudhoney is by no means a flawless band, but they’ve consistently released records that thankfully don’t fuss with the basic template of solid rock music (the horns further positioning Mudhoney within the “classic” realm of rock). And in doing so, they’ve kept a certain flickering torch lit for quite some time until the underground saw fit to take it up again. The spring 2006 ATP festival, which saw Mudhoney picking the opening-night lineup and sharing the stage with the likes of Black Mountain and Comets on Fire, proves that fire, thankfully, is once again burning strong.

By Nate Knaebel

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