Mudhoney’s ninth album is named Vanishing Point, and its opening song is called “Slipping Away.” For any other band, those titles might not bode well. Rather than reporting its own demise, Mudhoney remains the cockroach of grunge, hiding in the walls and coming out to scavenge for scraps under cover of night. The departure of founding member Matt Lukin followed the band’s final major-label album, Tomorrow Hit Today; Mudhoney’s subsequent tailspin leveled out with the induction of bassist Guy Maddison on 2002’s Since We’ve Become Translucent. Back on Sub Pop, the label that spawned the band, Mudhoney has crept along with a string of solid-yet-uninspired discs, Vanishing Point being the latest eruption of the band’s violently psychedelic, half-baked blues-punk.
“Slipping Away” proves that Mudhoney once again intends to stay right where it’s always been. With a sludge-caked lick straight out of the group’s debut EP, 1988’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, the song squeals in a fit of brain-liquefying, retro-Blue Cheer joy. Similarly, “I Don’t Remember You” recalls the choppy nausea of the Superfuzz-era single “Touch Me I’m Sick”; just for the fuck of it, frontman Mark Arm jokingly quotes another, somewhat notable Seattleite, Jimi Hendrix. And on the lurching, sneering “The Only Son Of The Widow From Nain,” Arm’s feedback-slathered interplay with fellow guitarist Steve Turner scours the last bit of skin off the track’s already rubbed-raw riffage.
Echoes of former glory aside, much of Vanishing Point sinks into soupy listlessness. That slacker ethic felt perversely potent in the ’90s, when it was clear the band was subverting the dominant grunge paradigm by keeping it loose, sloppy, and silly. But with the deflated nihilism of “What To Do With The Neutral” and the tuneless goof-punk of “Chardonnay,” Mudhoney underscores rather than harnesses its weaknesses. “Douchebags On Parade” concludes the album with a lazy swipe at low-hanging fruit. In essence, that’s been Mudhoney’s modus operandi all along. While Vanishing Point keeps the slack alive, it cries for an extra shot of venom and volume. On one of the disc’s standout songs, the blistering (and blisteringly funny) “I Like It Small,” Arm says it all: “I’m not on some grandiose trip / I’m fine with little sips.” At this point in its career, Mudhoney shouldn’t be afraid to take more big gulps.