In that era of music in the 1990’s that was alternative friendly, it’s still sad that The Muffs were not on the top of the game. Then again, if that meant being MTV darlings and having massive product endorsements… well, The Muffs were briefly apart of that when “Everywhere I Go” was used for a Fruitopia commercial, but despite being on a major label (Warner Bros.) and being able to rock out in anyway possible, they did not achieve the kind of fame and stardom their contemporaries were able to obtain. Sure, part of the industry were signing anything and everything that was Seattle, which lead to countless bands actually moving to the Seattle area, wearing lumberjack flannels, and adjusting their looks to “be Seattle”. The Muffs were born and raised in the Los Angeles, and were proud of this fact, but for whatever reason, their music did not catch on to the masses/them masses. More for fans.
I believe I had first heard about The Muffs in an issue of Flipside, when they were one of the hot upcoming bands of the L.A. scene and I’d read their concert reviews and occasional interviews. To me, they came off as energetic and powerful, all without me ever hearing a note. The articles would always mention that vocalist/guitarist Kim Shattuck and guitarist Melanie Vammen were original members of The Pandoras. They were a band I was familiar with only by name, as I had remember seeing them neitoned a few times in Rip magazine but I had never made the effort to listen to or buy their music. I had always felt that it was odd that The Pandoras were mentioned in a magazine that was primarily hard rock and heavy metal, but the early issues of Rip were a bit more diverse than what they would become, as I would eventually hear about groups like The Goo Goo Dolls, Flaming Lips, and whatever Henry Rollins felt like doing. Nonetheless, The Pandoras were a thing of the past, and The Muffs were something completely different. On top of that, what band would actually name themselves The Muffs? Was it a pubic reference? Something for the ears? Maybe a guitar pedal of voice? When I heard The Muffs were going to be signed to a major, I thought that was ballsy because here was a band with that name, going to be pushed by a major label. I felt that was awesome. On a selfish note, Shattuck and Vammen were attractive to me but I thought cool, if these ladies are rocking, I want to hear it. Bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Criss Crass: not attractive at all, but what do I know? In May of 1993, the CD arrived in the mail and I pressed play.
The Muffs is a 17-track album (or in truth, 16 tracks plus a bonus hidden track at the end of the album) that defined Shattuck, Vammen, Barnett, and Crass as a powerful punk band with incredible pop tendencies, reflective of the music of the short-but-sweet songs of the late 50’s and early 60’s but with the power and volume of the late 70’s and early 80’s. None of the songs went over four minutes, with a few clocking in at under two, and the lyrics touched on personal experiences that related to love and relationships, but done in a fashion that sounded extremely passionate in a rock’n’roll way. “Lucky Guy”, the opening track on the album (and the second single from the album) touched on a man who was doing nothing but being a bum at home and living “the good life” in his own mind, while Shattuck found grief in someone who felt like he could “do anything in life and taking it easy”, as if all that mattered. The second scream Shattuck does when she says “I don’t know why” sounded horrifying, and from that moment I had a feeling that this album would be quite good.
On the same note, a group out of New York called Luscious Jackson were signed to the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label, and had come out with the In Search Of Manny EP. They had a song on their called “Life Of Leisure” that also spoke of a man who was asked “why you wanna waste away, lover of the life of leisure” and it felt like the perfect 1-2 punch for all men who wanted to be in a relationship with someone but didn’t want to do anything but be lazy. Had The Muffs and Luscious Jackson toured, it would have been perfect.
After the megablast of “Lucky Guy”, it is followed up by a track that perfectly compliments the negative energy of what came before. “Saying Goodbye” comes off as a song of sorrow, but Shattuck’s optimistic vocal performance has a hint of partial sarcasm and full on happiness. The bitter sweetness of it almost has the feel of a girl group sound going the wrong way, but in the end becoming the right and only way.
“Everywhere I Go”, the first single released off of The Muffs, could easily stand alongside songs by The Breeders, Belly, The Replacement, and Throwing Muses, with a chorus that touches on someone loving the fact that her man is there, but the lack of space and breathing room causes her to wish for some quiet time. In a way, one could say it was her talking to Sting’s character that he created in The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, the man who had an urge to watch his woman everywhere she chose to go.
“Better Than Me” is a rough and rugged song with wicked guitar work from Vammen, as Shattuck looks over the lack of equality of the sexes, and how she wishes to do her thing on her own terms, so she indirectly states that he needs to steer clear of her path.
Track 9 was “Big Mouth”, the third and final single from the album, and one clocking in at a nice and wholesome 1:51. The song is a not-so-healthy exchange of words that have to do with the words passed between one another, and how a negative experience leads to blame and anger.
The rest of the album is a rollercoaster of emotions, with songs that touch on everything from jealousy, envy, fear, and a bit of hope. In fact, by the time the album reaches “I Need You” (originally released as a 45 in Sub Pop’s Singles Of The Month series in 1992), it seems the anger that begins the album has turned into the opposite, with desires wanting to be met but with the kind of fierce screams from Shattuck that may make listeners go “holy shit, this woman is insane” but it is those insane screams that was one element of The Muffs’ charm, where Shattuck was able to go back and forth between being infuriated while also asking for what she wants out of a relationship, in her own way. In a way, fans of the band could appreciate this because these were not songs relating to teen love, this was grown-up stuff, what could lead to fights at a nightclub or at the apartment. Maybe their songs were the soundtrack to a number of relationships in the 1990’s, or it may have been a guidebook of sorts on what to expect in moments of love, for better or worse. If anything, Shattuck’s vocal and lyric strength came off as someone who wasn’t about to stand there and have shit thrown her way. She was going to fight it out because she wanted to be heard. If, as Stacy Lattisaw once said, love was on a two way street that was lost on a lonely highway, Shattuck had no problem in finding another route to get to a destination of choice.
The group did a healthy amount of touring for their debut album, but by the time they released their second album two years later, they were a trio, with Vammen leaving the band and Crass being replaced by Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald, who has remained with the group to this day. The Muffs ended up staying with Warner Bros./Reprise for two more albums before becoming independent, where the band has released only a small handful albums but each having the same kind of passion, power, and fortitude (sure, let’s add vim and vigor in there as well) that has made them stand out from the rest. Sure, maybe one of the band’s biggest glories was being on the soundtrack to Clueless doing a cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” or having their sticker seen on Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar in the video for Green Day’s “Longview”:
but I’d like to think that their fans know that the output they have managed to release in 20+ years is glory in itself, and I’m proud to still be one of their fans.