It's all but impossible to divorce the music on the Muffs' album No Holiday from the death of the group's lead vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and guiding light Kim Shattuck, whose battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ended on October 2, 2019, just 16 days before No Holiday was released. She was ill while recording the album, and it's not hard to hear that if you know what you're looking for. Compared to the rest of the band's catalog, No Holiday sounds more subdued, quieter, and more contemplative, with less of their usual frantic tempos and not as much of Shattuck's trademark gritty shout. This music doesn't rock as hard as one might expect, and the acoustic bedroom musings of "The Best" and "Happier Just Being with You" might not have made the cut on a typical album from these folks. And though the Muffs were never about clean and neat production, some of these tracks sound unusually rough around the edges, with studio patter, bum notes, and rubbing against microphones left to stand in the final product. All that said, the Muffs' greatest asset was always Shattuck's songwriting, which says a great deal given how good she was as a singer and guitarist, and the high standards of her bandmates. On this album, it's clear that she loved making music, was justifiably proud of her songs, and wasn't about to pass on the chance to record one more batch for posterity. The lyrics never directly address Shattuck's condition, and with good reason. One might sense a slight double meaning in "Sick of This Old World" and "Late and Sorry," but since the tunes were written between 1991 and 2017, most came long before her diagnosis. For whatever reason, there's a bit less snark and a little more love in these lyrics (Shattuck never wrote a song as unabashedly sweet as "The Best"), and her typical playful grouchiness and wary internal dialogue feel tempered by an awareness of how much each day can mean. "That's for Me," "Down Down Down," and "Lucky Charm" sound like prime Muffs, with plenty of dirty guitar and excellent support from bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald, and every song, regardless of tempo or guitar loudness, shows Shattuck had a truly brilliant gift for writing pop melodies that were catchy but full of clever turns that made them all the more tasty. Nothing about No Holiday suggests Shattuck and her friends were trying to make a brave and uplifting final statement as they recorded these songs; however, there's just enough going on under the surface to suggest that the effort that went into making it feels brave and uplifting anyway. Kim Shattuck loved rock & roll and was too grateful to her muse to take it for granted, and No Holiday is a joyous if bittersweet testament to her spirit and her gift.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming