Really Really Happy [Expanded Edition]

The Muffs

(CD - Navras Records / Omnivore #OVCD 463)

Review by Tim Sendra

When the Muffs finished their 1999 tour obligations, they were at a low point. No manager, no label, seemingly not many career prospects left. It would have been easy to give up the game after eight solid years and four sterling albums of punk-meets-power pop goodness. They weren't quite ready to pack it in, though, and kept playing the occasional show, even while the band's leader, Kim Shattuck, formed a new group with cub's Lisa Marr called the Beards. At the same time, she kept cranking out songs for the Muffs, and after the band hooked up with Five Foot Two, the label run by Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey, they got a chance to record them. To make Really Really Happy, the group eschewed the studio experience -- which hadn't always been pleasant in the past -- and tracked everything except the drums in Shattuck's kitchen. The new recording setup doesn't change much; the band still deliver crunchy and raw slices of punk powered by Shattuck's gnarly guitar and sugar-snarled vocals. There is a layer of grunge gloss missing from the mix, and that's just fine. The band were able to make it through that era with their facilities intact, and some might even say they sound more immediate and pop-friendly without the fancy studio treatment. Shattuck certainly sounds at the top of her game vocally, spitting out venom on tough rockers like "Freak Out" or "The Whole World." She also proves up to some of the stylistic gambles the Muffs take. The bouncy put-down "Don't Pick On Me" is a rollicking blast, "Something Inside" is a painfully honest ballad that is well served by the stripped-down production, "My Awful Dream" proves that the band are just as powerful minus electricity, and the doo wop-meets-sea shanty "Fancy Girl" is a showcase for Shattuck's more intimate vocal style. Add in a few glimmering pop songs ("Everybody Loves You," "How I Pass the Time") that float by on a cloud, and it makes for a set that explores more sides of the group than any album that came before. It may lack some of the thumping power of earlier work, but it makes up for it with variety and some truly great songs. Really Really Happy is the start of the second half of the band's career, and it's a really, really strong record.

[The Omnivore reissue of the album includes a few songs that were featured on international editions and a couple of throwaway punk ditties, including the one that explores the timeless sentiment "I Hate Gym." It also has touching liner notes from bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald. The true find that makes this essential for Muffs fans is the inclusion of a second disc of demos Shattuck made for the other members of the band. Recorded herself with a drum machine, the songs are raw, rough, and, as Barnett basically says in the notes, fully formed. If it wasn't for the joy she had playing with the band, she could easily have been a solo artist, and these recordings are the proof. It's a toss-up which version of the album is better; if pressed one might concede that a little bit of polish does help bring out the shine. Regardless, it's amazing to have the chance to hear the demos as the other members of the band did.]

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