I think there are rules against writing reviews that repeat the phrase "This is a great album! Buy it right now!" over and over again until the space is used up. There also may be a clause that prohibits my second-best idea for describing Since We've Become Translucent
-- a review consisting entirely of exclamation points. But you get the idea. This is a great album! Buy it right now! Is that clear enough?
Mudhoney is, of course, the band that got left behind at the grunge revolution and now, a decade later, looks unlikely to get swept up into garage band mania, despite deep, dirty roots in the Stooges/MC5/Sonics motherlode. That's a shame, because Since We've Become Translucent does an almost unimaginably good job of adding heft, weight and, god I hate to say it, maturity to the garage idiom. That sounds pretty tedious, but in fact, this album has moments that are as much fun as David Johansen in drag. It's the balance -- getting older and staying relevant, partying hard and surveying the damage, looking at the hard questions straight on and keeping a sense of humor anyway -- that make this album great.
"Baby, Can You Dig the Light" opens the disc, erupting out of a haze of guitars and siren wail of saxophones, then plunging downward through a pulse-quickening barrage of drums. The track conjures a ruined, urban landscape, pure instrumental sound spiraling smokily upward for nearly four psychedelic minutes before Arm's desolate vocals break in. "I finally reached the end of the tunnel," he sings, late in the track. "This is the end of the tunnel and there is no light."
It's an interesting lead-off for a band that many people thought was finished -- but let's not get too metaphorical, because there's plenty of light ahead for listeners. Follow-up "The Straight Life" has a strong Stooges feel to it, its neck-snapping rhythm recalling tunes like "No Fun" and "TV Eye". Then "Where the Flavor Is" -- which, by the way, has nothing to do with Marlboro Country -- picks up with a James Brown brass line that's as horny as the track's lyrics. Scratchy guitar and bass lines -- think "Lust for Life" -- intertwine to power "Inside Job", the kind of tune that you cannot play without moving some part of your body -- a finger, a toe, the whole deal -- to its rhythm.
In the four years since the last Mudhoney album, Arm and guitarist Steve Turner have been busy with various side projects, including garage supergroup Monkeywrench, alternative metal band Bloodloss and a Sonics tribute band. Last year, longtime bass player Matt Lukin left Mudhoney and was replaced by Guy Maddison. Maddison played with Arm in Bloodloss, and he was also associated with Australian noise punk band Lubricated Goat. As far as I can tell, he is a net plus. His throbbing intro to "Dyin' for It" is a lot funkier and more complicated than anything in "Touch Me I'm Sick", for instance, and makes more explicit the link with the primordial soul punk of MC5. You can hear even more Motor City burning on "Inside Job", which features Wayne Kramer on bass.
The album-closing "Sonic Infusion" resembles "Baby, Can You Dig the Light" in its long build-up, slow tempo and moody atmospherics. Unlike the opener, however, it erupts in a Sonics-style scream, takes off and never looks back. Its lyrics also explain the album title, to some extent: "They think we don't exist since we've become translucent. They feel just what they miss and it adds to their confusion."
So, in a landscape of pretty boy garage bands with matching suits, of soulless guitar pyrotechnics and Disney-branded divas, what are you missing? If there's an aching space inside you where real, hard, meaningful rock music used to live, you're probably looking for Mudhoney.