The Lucky Ones redefines stripped-down, “back 2 basics” ramalama, certainly when it comes to Mudhoney’s recent past. I mean, it’s not like the band’s other twenty-first century works (2002’s Since We’ve Become Translucent and 2006’s Under a Billion Suns) were proggy, topographic explorations or anything—far from it. Yet this new one is deliberately and aggressively raw. It sounds as lean and as full-on as any modern equivalent one cares to mention. Recorded in a scant 3.5 days (including overdubs) with Tucker Martine (who also recorded four songs on the previous album), Mudhoney went in armed with a batch of new material expecting to spend a fair amount of time getting it right. Bang—and bang again after some mixing—and a new album was birthed in record time, faster than anything else the band’s done to date.
Quoth singer Mark Arm, “We decided that since everything came together so serendipitously that we shouldn’t fuck with it, and these 11 songs should be the album.” Arm actually doesn’t even play guitar on this one, which conjures up sumptuous visions of the man himself bounding about the live stage with a mic stand doing perennial Mudhoney encore “Hate the Police.” All guitar (lead, rhythm and histrionics) is assigned to Steve Turner this time, and listening to The Lucky Ones finds Turner’s axe-wielding deftness and heft arriving intact, with strange squalls and meaty blasts rebounding in every aural corner.
Chunks of The Lucky Ones can be seen as links in the great sonic chain to excellent Mudhoney records preceding it; with a little Tomorrow Hit Today here (“Next Time”), a little Superfuzz Bigmuff or Mudhoney there (the walloping title track, which is an outstanding, ear-scraping, fuzzed-out sister to 1989’s “Here Comes Sickness”); a bit of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge here (the playful “And the Shimmering Light”) and bites of something entirely new there (“New Meaning,” “Inside Out Over You”). Then there’s this screamer called “Tales of Terror,” track #9, for anyone who wants to get in on the insider half-tribute. See, there was this early ‘80s long-haired skate punk band from Sacramento called Tales of Terror who ruled both the half pipe and the stage. Mark Arm’s old band Green River covered them before many of you were born (“Ozzie,” on 1987’s Dry as a Bone). Mudhoney celebrates the vigentennial (look it up!) of this first tribute with another one, this time with the same sort of creeped-out, descending guitar pattern, near-hardcore tempo, and war whoops of the original band.
Mudhoney has always had a smidgeon of that weird-ass, psychedelic Thirteenth Floor Elevators “eye mind” about them, and that too crops up in weird places on The Lucky Ones, just when you thought it was safe to cut your hair and start a pit. The grand majority of these numbers were intentionally written “from the rhythm up” instead of from the riff and the lyrics down, if you know what I mean. The effect is to thrust out the bottom-end rumble of drummer Dan Peters and bassist Guy Maddison, and to bring about a cohesive whole not entirely ruled by the almighty riff—although you certainly don’t have to look hard to find ’em.
Opening The Lucky Ones, the band defiantly looks twenty years of heaviness and critical hosannas in the eye and spits out the anthemic “I’m Now,” an existential place where “the past makes no sense, the future looks tense.” Finding eager new converts locked firmly in the present who’ll agree should not prove difficult.
— Jay Hinman