Wednesday, February 1, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1617: The Muffs

After a long weekend I felt energized but after a long couple of days at the office, I feel tired. I take solace, as ever, in good music. Here’s one of my most recent acquisitions!

Disc 1617 is…Blonder and Blonder

Artist: The Muffs

Year of Release: 1995

What’s up with the Cover?  Not much to say here. A picture of the band. The font is a little teen idol for a band that rocks out so much, but I won’t quibble further. The guy on the right looks like he’s related to the Gallagher brothers.

How I Came To Know It: I completely whiffed on the Muffs back when they were making this music, so it was all new to me, but once I discovered it I liked what I heard.

I had a chance to buy this record at a local record store about five years ago. I decided to go home and see if I liked it. I found I did like it and went back the next day only to find it had sold. Argh. Then for years I couldn’t find a copy (it was out of print) until finally I succumbed when I saw it available through an English distributor on Amazon a couple weeks ago. So…here it is. This copy is 2016 re-issue, but not being a purist I am untroubled.

How It Stacks Up: I am on the lookout for another Muffs album that is equally hard to find (1997’s “Happy Birthday to Me”) but for now, “Blonder and Blonder” sits alone, so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 3 stars

“Blonder and Blonder” proves you can punkify anything if you know what you’re doing. This record has pure teen idol pop songs, rockin’ grunge-fest numbers, and even a bit of Celtic folk, all folded up into furious two-and-a-half-minute pop punk ditties.

The result is a little bit angry, but mostly fun. OK, maybe half and half, but the fun glass is the glass that’s half full. These songs have a lot of aggressive playing but don’t let all the crash of cymbals and guitar crunch fool you: underneath they have the soul of sixties pop hits. Think the Supremes or the Shangri-Las, with a bit of nineties snarl.

If you are a punk purist this will irk you. You will rail at the multiple chord progressions, and likely shriek in frustration at mid-song key changes. These things are going to happen, however, and I encourage you to instead enjoy this music for what it is – supercharged pop music written by someone who knows what they’re doing.

That someone is lead singer Kim Shattuck, who tries on different musical styles like she’s thrift-shopping clothes, making each style contort to the sound she needs to make it work for her, regardless of its original owner’s intent. She does this with a wild abandon – think manic pixie dream girl, except that she’s as likely to punch your mouth as kiss it.

Production-wise, this record is of its time. It is full of that wall-of-sound thing that grunge had popularized five years earlier. Plenty of reverb, and lots of banging and crashing. On the one hand, I just wanted to hear the tunes, but on the other I realized that is exactly what gives “Blonder and Blonder” its frenetic charm.

Some of the more surprising style adaptions include “Lying on a Bed of Roses” which has an A section that sounds a lot like the A section in Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” It feels slightly wrong, but mostly right. Go with it.

Another surprise is “Funny Face” which has the drunken folksy sway of a Dropkick Murphy’s song. It sounds so much like this that for a while I was convinced Shattuck was just punkifying some traditional sea chanty, but no – she wrote it herself. She just made it seem effortless.

Over repeat listens, the thick production did wear me down a bit, but I can’t denied I enjoyed it. It was both a kiss and a punch, just like it was intended.

My copy of “Blonder and Blonder” is a 2016 re-issue which has a lot of bonus tracks. The original album has my maximum allowable of 14, and the re-issue adds 8 more, many of which are demos. This was irksome but I couldn’t get too mad. For one thing, the liner notes feature short well-structured paragraphs of Shattuck describing what inspired her to write each track. Also, the demos are basically stripped down the way I like my production. Finally, even swollen the record was still only 56 minutes long (the original is a svelte 34).

In doing the minimal research I apply to this review process I learned that Kim Shattuck died of complications of ALS in 2019. For someone with such irrepressible energy to be taken so soon sucks big time, but she left us an album that is so full of life it will survive for generations to come.

Best tracks: Oh Nina, Sad Tomorrow, What You’ve Done, Red Eyed Troll, I Need a Face, Funny Face

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