The Muffs – one of those bands that just might have recorded all of its music in one week or over one year and then drip-fed it to us. That’s obviously not true, but you can believe it. They never changed their sound, never needed to and certainly didn’t want to. Theirs was a career on the fringes, making great music that started off begging to be hear, then just sneered off in any other direction, saying fuck it, and being the music you went to if you wanted to. You found it. Or it found you. But the band never quite found the success it deserved. This is true of so many bands of course, but it’s now a very bittersweet time to be thinking about The Muffs.
Her husband sharing the news of her passing (ALS) was the first anyone outside of close friends and family even knew of her diagnosis. We had been waiting and building up hopes for No Holiday. And then it was announced that Shattuck had died. The album she had been working on has been built out of songs that were written as far back as 1991, and stopping at 2017. The result is a sort of ‘hits’ compilation; broad survey of all that was good about this band.
Opener, That’s For Me, takes you back to the golden daze of peak Phair and Hatfield, Throwing Muses, L7 and The Breeders. It’s that big burst of fruit-flavoured pop-punk, not the sissy/wussy kind. It’s all power and you feel the energy of great 60s rock and pop as filtered through the Gen-X heyday of the early/mid-90s.
That energy continues across Down Down Down which could have been a Nirvana song – or Hole covering Nirvana if you must.
Drummer Roy McDonald, bassist Ronnie Barnett and Shattuck (vocals/guitar) forged one of those sounds, like the core Throwing Muses trio, that never seemed to date, never seemed to change, but was also never quite stuck in one time-zone, certainly never stuck in one gear. And that’s all true here too – the title track chugging along like back when Sleater-Kinney seemed vital.
There are noticeably some extra rasps pulling down on Shattuck’s vocals here and there, and we sadly knew why before we’d even get to hear this, but the overall vibe is consistent with the feel and flow of the band’s best work and the lyrics are spat with all the fury and funniness, all the sarcasm and scathing seriousness that Shattuck had always offered.
Though they hurtle through 18 songs in 44 minutes this still carries the feel of a double-album and links it to not only The Clash’s London Calling but also Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. Shattuck was always doing her own thing but if she had to be pegged between two places I think she’d be happy camping out in that exact space.
It’s hard to talk about No Holiday without eulogising a great singer/songwriter that perhaps never quite got her due – but keep listening to it. There’s plenty of gold here. The band sounding so fresh and vital, no moss whatsoever. No mildew. Most of the songs kick-off with drumstick clicks or with a chugging riff that is essentially working to count in the other players. There’s a playfulness about that. Not just a stylistic trick. It feels like a young band wanting to hit out and carve a mark, wanting to make something worthwhile. And almost every song on this album feels exactly like that. These, now are the final marks that Kim Shattuck will make, in terms of serving new songs.
There’s a catalogue to discover. An embarrassment of riches.
And right at the end of this final album we hear Shattuck on acoustic guitar, just that and her voice, singing about aiming for the sky – about hoping to fly. About taking chances.
You wipe the tear away and press play a second time.
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