Read Hard’s Classic Pop-punk Picks #34: The Muffs- Blonder and Blonder

Posted: February 1, 2018 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

muffs

It seems more and more like this column has become annual and even if I promise to write more often it seems like every article is further apart. Now we have come to Blonder and Blonder by the Muffs. I was torn whether to write about this one or self-titled, but I decided to go with B&B because the self-titled will be in the 1993 Years of Our Lives article. The Muffs were formed by singer and guitarist Kim Shattuck and the other guitarist Melanie Vammen. They had both previously played in the Pandoras. Later bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Criss Crass joined the band. After releasing singles and EP’s on Subpop and Sympathy for the Record Industry in the early 90s, they signed to Warner Bros and released their eponymous debut in 1993. The Grunge sound of the day was very present on the album. After Crass quit the band and their current drummer Roy McDonald joined and Vammen also quit, they recorded Blonder and Blonder as a three-piece and the grunge influences present on the first album were replaced by a more mainstream pop punk sound, even if Rob Cavallo was co-producer on both albums. In 1997, they released Happy Birthday to Me which gave us “Outer Space” and “I’m a Dick”. On their next album Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow from 1999, they were back on an indie label (Honest Don’s) and Really Really Happy from 2004 they were back on Sympathy for the Record Industry. In 2014, they were prestigious enough to make my top ten of 2014 list with, what I think is an overlooked and underrated album: Whoop Dee Doo on Burger Records. Despite all these great releases, their most famous song is probably their cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” that appeared on the soundtrack to Clueless.

The first time I heard the Muffs was on Weasel Radio in 07 or 08 and I was blown away. I didn’t know the name of the song and I couldn’t find the episode in the archives when I looked for it. I found it years later and the song was “Baby Go Round” which already was my favorite Muffs song and I think in 2009 I considered it my third favorite song ever written. I still think it is, but I think spot nr.1 and 2 have changed. In 2008, I got a new phone for Christmas which included 200 (or so) free songs that I could download, and I decided to download all of the self-titled album and a few songs from Blonder and Blonder. Except for the track “I Need You” from self-titled I really loved all the songs I downloaded, and I still do, and I still skip “I Need You”. I quickly after that, in the early half of 2009, ordered the Blonder and Blonder CD.

Blonder and Blonder was released on April 11, 1995 on Reprise Records and was produced by Rob Cavallo and the Muffs. The album cover is Kim, Roy and Ronnie and the Muffs logo over them. The album title is most likely a reference to Kim’s blonde hair on the cover. Another interesting thing to notice about the cover is that none of the band members get their entire face on the cover. I don’t know if this is done on purpose, but it’s also interesting that the word ‘face’ is so prominent on the album.
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1. “Agony”: The album starts with a boom. It’s fast and catchy and quite poppy as well. It’s a very ‘Muffs-thing’ to have an extremely poppy song instantly become a much less poppy song with Shattuck’s raspy voice and screaming. I think her voice is very distinctive and essential to the band. The song describes the loneliness and bad feelings that might occur after a breakup. It sort of makes sense that Rob Cavallo who produced Dookie co-produced this album as the sound sounds very Dookie-era Green Day at times, but with more of an edge than Green Day had, both in Shattuck’s singing and in rawer guitar sounds. Speaking of Green Day, the song “State of Shock” is pretty much a rip-off of “Agony.

2. “Oh Nina”: Kim Shattuck said in an interview: “”It’s about a transvestite who pulls straight men into sleeping with him. It’s very watered down, I guess, but to me, that’s what it is.” (http://www.popstops.net/muffs.htm) (all quotes from Shattuck that follow are from this interview). “Nina” rhymes with a lot in this song, like Pasadena and ballerina. They made a live music video for this track with Nina appearing in the beginning. The signature Shattuck scream is even more present in this song!

3. “On and on”: The third track of the album is a lot poppier and more straight-up pop-punk than the two before it, yet the Shattuck signature scream is present here as well. The song seems to be about wishing someone dead, harsh stuff: “Now I’m wishing for your death/ Tell me that I’m wrong/ But I’m just wasting all my breath/ And it goes on and on”.

4. “Sad Tomorrow”: The only single from the album and I don’t understand why it wasn’t a bigger hit. There was made a music video for “Sad Tomorrow” too and it’s pretty funny. The band plays in a pawn shop and we get to see lots of shenanigans. It’s a poppy upbeat song, but the lyrics are pretty damn sad. It seems to me like a song about not being appreciated or not being supported emotionally by your significant other. The most depressing lines of the song “I feel naked and weird/ Do you see what I hear/ Maybe one day I’ll die, who cares”. The chorus also echoes this depressing notion of your significant other, who seems like some sort of bigshot, would be happier if you died. There’s a lot of wishing people dead on this album. Shattuck described it as all her favorite sounds rolled into one. Her favorite band the Kinks, a little bit of the Everly Brothers, some Ramones, some Hollies, some Sex Pistols and Joan Jett.

5. “What You’ve Done”: Another pretty straight up pop punk song. It starts with a romantic gesture “I’d do anything for if I could”; later it’s not as romantic. She claims that even if she could believe all that he says, she still doesn’t want to spend time with him. She’s caught him lying and she knows what he’s done. What he’s done is actually not mentioned, but it seems terrible.

6. “Red Eyed Troll”: The self-titled had “Another Day” and this one has “Red Eyed Troll”; they are both angry, rockabilly-inspired tunes. This is one of my favorite songs on the album because of its anger and aggression. I always thought it was a girl-power-esque song about a terrible man, like many of the other songs on the album, but this one seems to actually be about another woman. The chorus “I don’t need no attitude when you pick on me” is fantastic.

7. “End It All”: I first heard this song when the Queers covered it on their “Bubblegum Dreams” EP. To me the song seems like an anti-suicide song. It informs us that if we kill ourselves we will leave someone behind and we’ll be gone forever. It’s the slowest song on the album until now and it’s a pretty much a pop song in the same vein as “Downtown” by Petulia Clark. The Queers song is a bit longer because it repeats a verse, but the song being as short as it is is part of what makes it great. It says what needs to be said and boom there it’s over and you always wish there was more, but might as well listen another time then. What a song!

8. “Laying on a Bed of Roses”: Isn’t it supposed to be Lying on a bed of roses? Anyways, this is another rocker. This, along with “End It All” were the two B&B songs I downloaded in early 2009 and I thought this song was great. There’s a cool little rock ‘n’roll boogie riff in this one and Shattuck sounds as angry as ever. The song is about a significant other not understanding and taking everything the wrong way. The “I” person finds out that they don’t wanna put up with it anymore and finds out that they’d have more fun laying on a bed of roses than this shit, and there won’t be no next time.
9. “I Need a Face”: This is one of my favorites too. To be fair all the songs on this album are gems. This one is more like a hidden treasure though, hidden in the middle of the album. The chorus is so catchy. I’d say that, thematically, it’s pretty close to its predecessor and to “Saying Goodbye” on the self-titled, telling someone: you’ve had your fun, we’ve had our fun, but it’s not fun anymore, so goodbye.

10. “I Won’t Come Out to Play”: Another hit! This is another fantastic pop song! I think Dr. Frank was very inspired by this when writing the “The Weather Is Here Wish You Were Beautiful” solo. I think it also shows that you don’t need amazingly wordful lyrics to make a great track. So few words in this one!

11. “Funny Face”: Like I said, the word “face” is like some kind of motif of this album. We found it two songs earlier in “I Need a Face” and here’s also “Funny Face”. This is one of the slower songs and the melody sounds like some kind of jolly folk song, maybe from Ireland or something. I feel like it could be inspired by the Gershwin musical Funny Face or the Audrey Hepburn movie that was inspired by it. Along with many other pop punk and alternative songs of the day (like Green Day’s “J.A.R”, Ash’s “Jack Names the Planets”, The Riverdales’ “Back to You” and Pansy Division’s “Deep Water”) it appeared on the Angus soundtrack. Best line of the song: “I like everyone, they all hate me”.

12. “Ethyl My Love”: I feel like this is the “I Need You” of B&B, but not in a bad way. I can’t stand “I Need You”, but “Ethyl My Love” is actually great. I’ve never really understood the lyrics, if there’s supposed to be some kind of ambiguous meaning, if Ethyl can be someone’s name or if it just refers to the verb that means introducing an ethyl group into a compound (this would be Ethylate). Ethyl is alcohol or something. Chemistry is the worst! The song tells the tale of a boy supposedly giving a girl a ring. I’m not sure if I should compare it to “From Your Girl”: the narrator wants the boy to stay with the girl tell her to “ethyl his love” or if the narrator is the girl herself and she’s uncertain if he will be true and wants him to say “ethyl my love”. I still like the idea of the name of the girl being Ethyl. And now that turns out to be true! Shattuck said “’Ethyl My Love’ is about Ethyl Mertz. I don’t know, I was just tripping out, watching ‘I Love Lucy.’ What can I say? it’s a dumb song with dumb lyrics.”. Great tune!

13. “I’m Confused”: Another angry song to a happy soothing melody. I feel like, compared to many of the other songs on the album, the lyrics are quite straightforward and don’t make me confused. The character in the song is confused though! In “Funny Face” Shattuck sings “I love everyone, they all hate me”, while in “I’m Confused” she sings “I hate everyone”. There are some cool lines in the song like “Somebody leave me alone/ no one likes to be a clone”. I like the negativity and “fuck y’all” attitude of the song. In the interview, John Everson (the interviewer) compared the song to Joan Jett, and Shattuck thought it sounded more like Roy Orbison.

14. “Just a Game”: The self-titled album ends on the beautiful acoustic number “All for Nothing” and B&B ends on another acoustic track “Just a Game” and it’s a great one too and in many ways, sums up the album. A lot of the songs (see “Sad Tomorrow” and “Laying on a Bed of Roses) are about someone playing a game with someone else and trying to be the victim (“you’re the victim can’t you see”, but in reality they are the bad guy, alternately it could also be a self-loathing song writing in second person toward oneself). I think it’s also probably the song with the best lyrics on the album. The little guitar thing is great too. This is probably a perfect ending to a terrific album. I saw a video of Kim Shattuck playing it live on a radio show on YouTube and it’s a great performance.

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For more Muffs, I’m positive that the self-titled will make my 1993 list of “Years of Our Lives”, but you’ll have to sit through 1992 first. Next pick is Drop out with the Barracudas by the Barracudas!

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