Hey, Buzz Osborne, chill on the 'Mats and Hüsker Dü bashing
Photo By Ryan Siverson
After a chat with Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne for City Pages' Amphetamine Reptile cover story back in July, it became quite clear that he was opinionated and acerbic, especially when it came to music (a point proven even further during Buzz's engaging interview with Cyn Collins).
Now, in a recent piece in the AV Club, the always outspoken King Buzzo was asked to discuss "bands that were good, but blew it." In the feature, he excoriates some of the best-known bands in rock history. It's true that the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Metallica all have created some stinkers, but Buzz also gets in some derisive shots at Twin Cities musical luminaries Hüsker Dü and the Replacements that we must protest.
After praising Hüsker Dü's early output while stating that they were "one of the best bands I've ever seen live," Buzz has this to say about their mid-period output and their subsequent jump to a major label:
"Then the records changed to bad versions of R.E.M. when they signed to Warner Bros. I completely forgot about everything they were doing. On New Day Rising I thought they were starting to lose a bit of their edge, and I started to lose interest in them....Then they got signed to Warner Bros. and just took a giant shit as far as I'm concerned. I don't know how else to put it."
The shift from the breakneck, rowdy punk that churned at the heart of Hüsker Dü's early work toward the poppy, melodic material of the later records was certainly a dramatic change in both tone and tempo, but there are still gems to be found on Flip Your Wig and, to a lesser extent, Candy Apple Grey. And the grand artistic statement that is Warehouse: Songs and Stories stands as one last burst of brilliance from a band who were clearly going their separate ways but still had something meaningful to say.
Perhaps someday Buzz will make some sort of connection with the Hüskers' late-period work and grow to be less dismissive of the songs that captured the end of an era as well as the stylistic songwriting transition of Bob Mould.
But Osborne saves his most contemptuous statements for the Replacements. After admiring the brief but brutal potency of The Replacements Stink EP, Osborne then tears into the rest of the band's output in a scathing manner:
"That [The Replacements Stink] was such a great record. It was so much better than Let It Be or Pleased to Meet Me. Those records are interchangeable garbage. They're meaningless, and they're dumb. I don't know those guys, but I get the feeling that [Paul] Westerberg doesn't take it seriously."
Now, I love the Stink EP, but there is no way you can call out the 'Mats' indelible, celebrated records Hootenany, Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me as "interchangable garbage" and not get expect to get some justifiable flak for it. Obviously, making such outlandish statements and criticisms of musical titans and their landmark records was the whole point of the article, so the more unsatisfied that Buzz can sound, the better the article, and the more people read it -- I get that.
But this whole blind allegiance to artists' early work while dismissing anything and everything that comes after a band becomes successful is a tendency that has grown tiresome among music fans. (Now, I can see some of you throwing my vitriolic Kings of Leon post back in my face as proof that I took part in the very same troublesome banality that Buzz espoused above. But the Replacements and Hüsker Dü tower over the feeble, middle-of-the-road tripe generated by the overly precious Kings of Leon and their like.)
However, Buzz's caustic statements throughout the interview expand on the wide-held belief that a band's early work will always be their best material, and that with enough time/success/money/drugs, groups simply lose the plot as well as their creative edge. And, in many cases, this proves to be true -- and Buzz correctly singles out both Metallica and Black Flag earlier in the piece. But not in the case of the Replacements and Hüsker Dü -- bands that continued to grow and evolve in interesting, adventurous ways throughout their career, both as people and as artists.
No group will ever truly be able to capture the magic (or lack thereof) of their early days, but that doesn't mean that the creative output that comes later should immediately be dismissed or ignored. I certainly hope that Buzz can eventually have a good, intimate session with Let It Be or Flip Your Wig someday and discover the musical charms found on those records.
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