The Muffs

Hamburger
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)

Bands may come and bands may go, but as long as the Muffs are still around and making music, Los Angeles rock can't be half as bad as people say it is. Vocalist-guitarist Kim Shattuck and bassist Ronnie Barnett (with, at one time or another, drummers Criss Crass, Jim Laspesa and Roy McDonald, and guitarist Melanie Vammen) have persevered through a decade of faceless trends by cranking out distortion-laden bubblegum crunch and sweet '60s-inspired pop -- uncompromising and delicious music that continually stayed true to its roots: the Kinks, Joan Jett, Ronnie Spector, and the Ramones.

None of the recordings on Hamburger ever appeared on any of the Muffs' four studio albums. With that in mind, this collection of singles, B-sides, compilation tracks and unreleased non-LP material provides a chronological overview of one of the most essential and exciting L.A. bands of the '90s.

Best of all, the band's crucial singles are finally represented in digital format, starting with the glorious garage-pop of "New Love," from the Muffs' self-titled debut disc. The Australia-only single "Guilty" reveals Shattuck's brilliant songwriting to full effect, while its B-side, "Right in the Eye" (later rerecorded but unused for their debut album, and previously only available on a rare promo CD), showed that they could rock harder than almost everybody else without sounding like they were trying to. The Muffs' entire Sub Pop tenure consisted of one single, a grungy fuzz fest called "I Need You," and a cover of the Zeros classic "Beat Your Heart Out." On later seven-inchers, the band slapped faithful cover songs onto the flip sides, including the Saints' "Do the Robot" (featuring an unnerving lead vocal by Crass) and the Amps' "Pacer."

Speaking of cover songs, the Muffs took a flying leap into the tribute/compilation album market, outmatched only by Cub and Sonic Youth, and put their own sonic stamp on songs by the Troggs, Elvis Costello, and the Devil Dogs. A fast 'n' furious run-through of the Beat's "Rock & Roll Girl" from a long-forgotten New Wave tribute album kicks ass, but not as much as the ridiculously amusing and typically nauseating phone message from Courtney Love that prefaces it. And let's not forget their version of Kim Wilde's New Wave artifact "Kids in America" from the Clueless movie soundtrack (wait'll you hear the joyfully punky buzz pop of "Happening," the band's submission as the theme song for the Clueless TV show -- that's here, too).

Elsewhere, the band tosses in its very first released recording -- the ultrapop "Get Me Out of Here" from a compilation album by eccentric Canadian DJ-personality Narduar -- and shows off its garage roots in "You Lie," a golden oldie penned by Paula Pierce in the early days of the Pandoras, Kim's previous band. And practically everyone with a television set is by now familiar with the opening strums of "Everywhere I Go" (a.k.a. the song from that Fruitopia commercial), a morsel of jangly '60s pop that appeared on the Muffs' debut long-player but shows up here in a rawer demo version (which was actually released on the cassette version of that first album).

Former Bangle Susanna Hoffs and Steve McDonald of Redd Kross both make surprise cameos as backing vocalists, but the guest of all guests is former Poison axman C.C. DeVille, who lays down some frightfully festive metal soloing on "Silly People," an unreleased gem recorded for an independent film that's yet to see the light of day.

The topic of rarities albums can be a sore subject in the world of fickle rock fans (have we yet forgiven the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band for the dreadful Metamorphosis?), but Hamburger is a disc that will sit fine on the shelf between Odds & Sodsand Black Market Clash.

 
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