Mudhoney are not Nirvana. They’re the grunge band who helped originate a musical shift, but they’re not Nirvana. Sometimes, when you read about Mudhoney in a music magazine, or an blog like this one, you can’t get too far without a Nirvana comparison. You may as well be reading about Nirvana, because they’re always there, commented on in relation to Mudhoney. Let me say this one time only: Mudhoney are not Nirvana. In some ways, they’re much better. For reasons obvious or backhanded, Mudhoney always seem to fight off comparisons. Then again, they’ve spent their entire careers fighting. From their record label to Johnny Rotten, Mudhoney have fought for their music and integrity. They probably fought each other too. All the best bands do. My Brother the Cow, which was released in 1995, took a while to reach me. In that period, I was deeply embedded in my Smashing Pumpkins, Juliana Hatfield, Babes in Toyland, Ciccone Youth, Lemonheads, Beck, Hole, and (yes!) Nirvana period. Britpop dominated everything else. I swear outside of an Old Firm match, I’d never seen so many Union Jack flags in my life. Even now, that happens. Britpop had its moments. Mostly Sleeper and Pulp. My psychic allegiance, however, was to America’s alternative rock scene, discovered through magazines, delivered via Borders Books. I think Mudhoney arrived slightly too early for me to find and the Britpop frenzy would have prevented them making contact. So years passed, Britpop ended, and finally…I got my hands on a Mudhoney album. Superfuzz Bigmuff is everything you want from a debut. Well, it’s everything I want from a debut. Bratty, loud, scuzzy, and murky – listen to Mudhoney feels like ear surgery with a saw.
My nature, my natural inclination, moves towards obsession, or – as I’ll rephrase it – aggressive fandom. When I find an author I love, a band I adore, or a performer who stands out…I support them. I buy everything they’ve all done and don’t stop until they’re no longer around, and even then I’ll buy anything that’s released afterward. After hearing Superfuzz Bigmuff, I knew there was more to hear. The next day after work, I immediately headed to Glasgow to buy another Mudhoney CD. That album was My Brother the Cow. This, I decided, was my thing. Mudhoney – that is Mark, Matt, Dan, and Steve – made a fun racket, the sort of grubby guitar pop that was as essential to me as food, oxygen, clothes, Dr. Martens, and books.
Not necessarily in that order.
What I liked about Mudhoney in particular was that they sounded like they were having more fun than me. Fun wasn’t something I enjoyed. Fun at that age was meant to be parties, getting drunk, hanging about the streets at the weekend, and getting off with people. None of which I did. Still don’t. Fun, to put it bluntly, is not my idea of fun. But Mudhoney made up for it. I love to live vicariously through my favourites. Then again, the Seattle adjacent bands/grunge offshoots mostly had a dark sense of humour, something that often doesn’t get mentioned in thinkpieces. Groups with the names Pussy Galore, Cat butt, Coffin Break, and Dickless were never going to aim for the Grammys. For Mudhoney, their cynicism, burgeoning musicality, and humour collided into a perfect package on My Brother the Cow. It was also their major label debut after previous releases on Sub Pop. The album sold over 40,000 copies, a disappointment for Reprise. I’m to blame. If I’d known about this record, I would have bought at least 10,000 copies with my pocket money. Finding it years later, I had to marvel in retrospect. My favourite song off the album, the one that gets hummed when I don’t think too hard, is Generation Spokesmodel. A silly song with a riff that sticks like a stain, it really is a brilliant moment for the band. They’re also taking the piss, of course. They do that often. Into Your Shtick is another favourite. No-one can sneer like Mark Arm. Possibly a song about Courtney Love, it wouldn’t be alone if true. So is Professional Widow, Starfuckers Inc, Bruise Violet, Heart-Shaped Box, I’ll Stick Around, You Get What You Give, and Today. I love Courtney. What Moves The Heart is another highlight. Also F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killer).
What I love most about this album is how bitchy it sounds. Mark Arm uses his lyrics to take aim at targets across America, dispatching cool kissoffs to various different people who, for whatever reason, irritated him. It’s fun, but also a bit antisocial, but somehow manages the almost impossible task of being both very smart and so, so dumb at the same time. The band might take the piss, but there’s thought and purpose behind the gag – and we’re in on the joke.
Mudhoney is still together in a slightly different form since Matt left the group, but they’re still out there working hard, having a laugh, still not getting the credit they deserve, while constantly being mentioned alongside Nirvana. I know, I know. I’ve done it too. But don’t come to this album expecting Nevermind. It’s something very different. God, it has harmonica on it. Harmonica. Honestly, I should hate it, but it works. Even the songs that feel slightly out of place are held together nicely by the lyrics, which stay tight throughout.
The album cover nearly became a poster on my bedroom wall. Oh, I tried. Buchanan Street had a shop called The Poster Store and I looked through every rack to try and get this on glossy vinyl. Posters on a bedroom wall is a suburban art gallery. We can all have one if we find space. Sadly, The Poster Store didn’t have My Brother the Cow’s cracking artwork. It had plenty of Leonardo DiCaprio, some Take Me To Your Dealer photos, and plenty of Kurt Cobain, of course. In the end, I had to sneak into the college photocopier and do it myself.
This album isn’t for everyone. I don’t think I’d like it as much if everyone else put the cover art on their bedroom walls. Sometimes fandom makes us weirdly possessive. But if you want something fun, silly, and slightly lawless, then this can be your album too. No, it didn’t break Mudhoney into the mainstream like they deserved, but some albums are kind to their creators long after they’ve settled, yielding a sort of posthumous glow. My Brother the Cow is the best thing Mudhoney ever did and once I found it, I knew it was always going to be mine.