If you'd listened to the music and ignored the gossip-mongers, you would've thought Mudhoney, not Nirvana, would have self-destructed first. The two bands emerged at roughly the same time in the late '80s. Together, they were the formidable tag team that let loose a monster born of distorted punk and sludgy metal from the relative obscurity of soggy Seattle.
Early on, Nirvana was tight, compelling to look at and clearly built for bigness, while Mudhoney seemed disheveled and a little dangerous. In their titles and treatments, Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- each band's singular song -- underscored what a visceral thing grunge could be. But while Kurt Cobain and Co. were able to remain coolly, ironically detached while they railed at a rotting pop cadaver, Mudhoney singer Mark Arm inveigled the listener, shrieking with depravity over car-crash chords, "Come on baby, now come with me, if you don't come, you don't come, you don't come, you'll die alone."
Hard to believe, in retrospect, that Mudhoney has survived long enough to put out the 53-song, two-disc compilation "March to Fuzz." The collection finds the band -- which has not broken up, incidentally, though they are down to two of the four original members -- in fine, still unhinged form. This ersatz greatest hits features few new releases and draws mostly from five earlier LPs and two EPs, including the roaring, hot-rod debut, "Superfuzz Bigmuff."
On "March to Fuzz," Arm wastes little time in articulating the band's pointed desperation. "Jesus take me to a higher place," is his pleading first line on the opening track, "In N Out of Grace." From there the song breaks into a mad, sonic dash, refusing to let up until guitar, bass and drums lay garroted by a frenzy of feedback. Without many sideways glances, Mudhoney has returned again and again to frayed, garagey rock. "Suck You Dry," "You Got It" and "A Thousand Forms of Mind" all drive through this territory with admirable abandon.
That's not to say the band doesn't have fun. "Into the Drink" is a lean, romping head-bobathon with a chorus that makes it virtually impossible not to shout along. And a marimba on "Baby O Baby" casts Mudhoney in the role of the ship band on a riverboat ride down the Styx.
Perhaps it was a kind of fuck-it-anyway attitude that, in a sense, kept the band young. Weary and worrying, Cobain had the hopes of a million teens to carry on his cardigan shoulders. Mudhoney, conversely, rocked with a loose-limbed insouciance only affordable to the modestly famous. The band always appeared more interested in a party, an inebriated lark, than they were concerned about tomorrow's hangover. They remain, to borrow a title from "March to Fuzz," pleased to be "Good Enough."