Puddle of Mudd

Life on Display

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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Puddle of Mudd were one of the many neo-grunge bands that cluttered the American rock landscape in 2001/2002, ten years after Nirvana brought the sound crashing into the mainstream with Nevermind. Nirvana and many of their grunge peers flamed out rather quickly, because they were an underground phenomenon uncomfortable in the mainstream, where there were fans that liked the sound of the bands, not the sentiments. Which means that there was an audience for bands that replicated the heavy feel, including some vague angst-ridden sentiment, but left behind the unpredictability, weirdness, and art of the first wave of grunge bands. Several post-grunge bands came close in the immediate aftermath of grunge, but nobody perfected it until Puddle of Mudd and their ilk came along ten years later. Puddle of Mudd were fortunate enough to work with Andy Wallace, the man who mixed Nevermind, and on both their 2001 debut, Come Clean, and its 2003 sequel, Life on Display, he manages to recreate elements of Nirvana's sound, but only if they were a plodding heavy metal band instead of a noisy, art-punk outfit. Which means they can occasionally sound like Alice in Chains, but where that band had deep metal roots, Puddle of Mudd's vocabulary begins and ends with grunge. What makes them different is that they're grunge for frat boys, nowhere more so when they're singing about relationships, where every word is infused with roiling misogyny. That was especially insidious on the previous album's "She Hates Me," which turned "Lithium" into a drunken, clumsily profane singalong, and harbors one of the nastiest lyrical sentiments this side of Fred Durst (who, not entirely coincidentally, signed the band to his vanity label). That sentiment carries through on Life on Display, as Wes Scantlin lets loose with the charming accusation "I'm afraid you're f*cking somebody" on the chorus of the opening track, "Away from Me." His clumsiness as a lyricist emphasizes the banality of his songs, and while that could rile on Come Clean because he did write some catchy hooks, Life on Display is bereft of hooks, and glides by on its polished revival of grunge, so it's merely kind of dull. Without the hooks, Puddle of Mudd is revealed as what it is -- a pedestrian neo-grunge outfit that never grasped either the idiosyncrasies or the big picture of the sound it used as its blueprint. They skated by the first time through, due to a couple of fluke catchy songs, but they have no hooks or full-fledged songs this time around, and suffer dramatically because of it.

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