Mudhoney – “Digital Garbage” (2018)

Mark Arm has something to say.

To be fair, he often has something to say, and he usually does so with healthy doses of snark and disdain.  On Mudhoney’s last studio album, 2013s Vanishing Point, Arm tackled a number of topics.  He imagined the frustration felt by the other guy Jesus raised from the dead.  You know the one.  No, not Lazarus (Fucking Lazarus got all the fame, as the song reminds us), the other one.  The one they didn’t even bother to name in the Bible.  The one wearing the “Jesus Raised Me From The Dead And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt” shirt.  The one only known as “The Only Son of the Widow From Nain”.  Raised from the dead, and still they don’t remember your name.  And he was first!  Arm also railed against his least favorite varietal on “Chardonnay” (You’re the grape that launched a thousand strippers / The soccer mom’s favorite sipper) and, well, douchebags in “Douchebags On Parade”.  Vanishing Point was clever and witty and funny, though not terribly angst-ridden.


But fast forward five years, and this isn’t the same America we were living in back in 2013.  The political power pendulum swung from left to right and civil discourse has become, well, less civil.  These changes have not escaped Mr. Arm.  So if you’re looking for something quirky like “Chardonnay”, you’re not going to find it on Digital Garbage.  The Mark Arm on Digital Garbage is clearly pissed, and wants you to know it.  It’s said that baseball is America’s national pastime; in fact the game is literally referred to as “The National Pastime”.  But as much as I love baseball, and America, I think America’s real national pastime is righteous indignation.  It’s part of our collective national mythology, right up there alongside the concept of the self-made man and George Washington’s wooden teeth.  We love us some good indignation.  And Digital Garbage is indignant.

Right from the opening salvo Mudhoney let us know what we’re in for.  The plodding bass offset by the electrical discharge of the guitar on “Nerve Attack” sets the mood and Arm supplies the description (And all the darkness in my mind / Filled the world and struck me blind).  But that’s just an appetizer.  The main course starts with Paranoid Core”:

Vaccines, chemtrails, false flag plots
Government camps, Sharia Law
Invest in gold, squirrel away food
Stockpile guns, hoard your fuel.

I stoke the fire in your paranoid core,
I stoke the fire in your paranoid core,
I feed on your fear.
— “Paranoid Core”

There’s no mistaking how Arm feels about the current direction things are leaning, and everything and everyone are fair game.  Religious hypocrisy in particular is called out.  Whether it’s “Please Mr. Gunman” with it’s refrain we’d rather die in church countering the litany of sins the so-called righteous commit in their daily lives, or the cutting critique of “Prosperity Bible” (There’s a loophole / They’ve got a giant needle / If you can pay the price / They’ll let you ride a camel through the eye), or the blunt “Messiah’s Lament” (Look at what they’re doing / In my name), the lyrics don’t beat around the burning bush.  They’re blunt and clear.


Mudhoney record release show in Seattle, September 29, 2018
Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane

You want more?  OK.  Digital Garbage also includes “Night and Fog”, which is frightening take on the Nazi Nacht und Nebel directive of 1941, one that spelled out their strategy for simply making opponents of the regime disappear.  The idea is to strike terror into the population of occupied countries by making the outspoken simply vanish with no explanation as to what happened to them.  The lyrics interweave the concepts underpinning Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came…”, a poignant reminder that if we don’t speak up when “they” come for those who aren’t like us, there won’t be anyone left to speak up when “they” finally get around to coming for us (Who will cry for you / When you disappear?). (♠)

Arm does see some hope for the future, though it’s probably not the kind of hope most people share:

Don’t worry your head
The Earth will see peace
The world won’t end
Because we will be.

Replaced by nothing
Replaced by nothing
Replaced by nothing
In the next mass extinction.
— “Next Mass Extinction”

Don’t worry, kids; the earth itself will survive all this nonsense that we’re doing to it and to each other.  Everything’s going to be just fine…

Musically this is one of my favorite Mudhoney albums ever.  The production and balance is damn near perfect – there’s room for all three instruments as well as Arm’s voice, and everything is clear and crisp.  The bass in particular finds the pocket and gets the opportunity to drive the songs.

Will Digital Garbage make my Top 5 list this year?  I don’t know… but it will definitely be part of the conversation.

(♠)  Did I ever mention that I have a degree in history?

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