Loud, angry, and willfully removed from contemporary musical fashions, Mudhoney’s 10th album, Digital Garbage, is another molten slab of wryly caustic heavy-guitar rock. After 30 years, the Stooges still loom largest in Mudhoney’s palette of influences: Steve Turner’s mangled gutter-blues guitar owes as much to Ron Asheton as Mark Arm’s sardonic growl of a singing voice owes to Iggy Pop. The alt-rock pioneers’ devotion to the quintessential proto-punks manifests in even the smallest details, like the one-chord “I Wanna Be Your Dog”-esque piano that shows up here on “Please Mr. Gunman.”
Digital Garbage, however, also pulls from a few other sources—albeit none that date from any later than Mudhoney’s early-‘90s commercial heyday. The twangy garage-punk guitar and Farfisa buildup of “Kill Yourself Live” is a dead ringer for Devo’s “Gut Feeling”; the minor-key sledgehammer riffs of “Night and Fog” and “Next Mass Extinction” tread into Black Sabbath doom-rock territory; Turner’s jangly guitar chords and Arm’s plaintive vocals on “Messiah’s Lament” even sound a bit like mid-period R.E.M. The most welcome addition to their sonic stew may be the synthesizer that bassist Guy Maddison plays on “21st Century Pharisees”: Without disrupting the band’s stripped-down punk aesthetic, it’s the closest Digital Garbage comes to evoking the album cover’s desolate late-‘70s sci-fi landscape.
Also conjuring a bleak terrain—though unfortunately not a fictional one—are the album’s lyrics, which are the group’s most topical since 2006’s Under a Billion Suns. Much as that album did for the George W. Bush era, Digital Garbage lampoons the absurdity of the current political landscape with a rictus grin. Like most contemporary satires, the material pretty much writes itself. On “Paranoid Core,” Arm populates whole verses by simply listing popular right-wing conspiracy theories: “Vaccines, chemtrails, false flag plots, government camps, Sharia Law.” “Prosperity Gospel” takes aim at the self-evident hypocrisy of a Christianity that embraces capitalism: “They got a giant needle,” Arm sneers, referencing Matthew 19:23-24. “If you can pay the price, they’ll let you ride a camel through the eye.” The overall tone is more cantankerous than righteous, but Mudhoney still lands the occasional gut punch—dropping a chilling reference to police killings, for example, among the cartoonish suicide scenarios in “Kill Yourself Live.”
Of course, one of the common criticisms of Under a Billion Suns was that no one had ever asked for political commentary from the guys who sang “Touch Me I’m Sick,” and that’s still technically true in 2018. But something about the sheer stupidity endemic to our political moment demands a song like “Hey Neanderfuck,” with its withering contempt for those empty enough to crave power and dim enough not to know what to do with it. The specific “Neanderfuck” in question isn’t named, but he doesn’t need to be; there are more than enough candidates to go around. Digital Garbage may not be the most eloquent expression of our frustrations, but it’s as cathartic and life-affirmingly juvenile as a well-placed middle finger.