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Mudhoney has always been a lot of different bands. There's the early Mudhoney, the one that invented grunge's unholy marriage of punk and metal way back in 1988 with the landmark Superfuzz Bigmuff. There's the feedback bending psych band that toured with Sonic Youth and played Terrastock and kicked in the long trippy freakouts on the comeback album Since We've Become Translucent in 2002. There's the brutal live experience that seems to carry a bloody, sweaty mosh pit full of guys in the tour van, or else somehow rallies them in every town. And, perhaps throughout all of this, there is Mudhoney the garage rock band, enamored of the Stooges and Radio Birdman and MC5 and the Sonics, gritty and blues-tinged and not terribly complicated. The Lucky Ones, the band's eighth album in a 20-year run, built on block-simple riffs and strutting, swaggering rants, belongs to this Mudhoney.

The disc begins with four of its hardest hitting cuts, right in a row, leaving no doubt about whether this 20-year-old outfit still has the goods. "I'm Now" is big and blocky and full of wry humor, the drums hard and mean, the bass pulled up short like it runs into a wall. Turner's guitar is primitive and insistent, though allowed some rampages and even a few jokes. (Check out how he gets an unmistakable that's-a-pretty-woman "ummmm" out of his guitar in the first verse.)  And Arm, guitarless for the entire album, is in full Iggy mode, yelping and howling and taunting, with lines like "The past makes no sense / The future looks tense / Oh no-oh." "Inside Out Over You" is more of the same, straight-ahead, hard-hitting stuff, though with one of those perfect dead-stop and starts in it, right in the middle. (It also has my favorite what-the-hell line of the album, "In my fucked up gestalt / I'm like a slug in salt.")  And the title cut, starting in a fuzzy blast of feedback, will blow your hair straight back, like the guy in the stereo ad.

You realize, in the title track, that this album's main concession to age comes not in the music but in the words. They're howled, spat, thrown down, yet surprisingly nuanced and thoughtful. "The lucky ones / are lucky they're not around," sings Arm, and he could be singing about any number of friends from Cobain on down, and not in any maudlin way. Later, bass-driven "The Open Mind" turns its lacerating riffs to political ends, with cartoonishly vivid lyrics about war mongers and religious extremists. "Here comes another line with a hook for you to swallow / Here comes another lie designed to get you to follow," Arm sings. "Here comes another martyr who sets himself on fire / What the fuck / He thinks he's going out in style." Further on, he struggles with existential angst, howling "I got no idea why I'm here" on "Tales of Terror" and setting the fear of death to a hard-knocking beat on "Running Out." You picture the muscle guys in front at all Mudhoney shows, slamming shoulder to shoulder in time with these death-obsessed songs, and you have to smile a little bit.

So which Mudhoney do we have here? The one with a brutishly simple, visceral garage aesthetic, though this time with a twist of mortality thrown in. Or to put it another way, Mudhoney is driving 90 miles an hour with one eye on the rear view, blasting through a set of party animal songs about death, age, and memory. Maybe we're the lucky ones. • Jennifer Kelly   

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