As one of the most commercially successful bands of the last decade, Puddle of Mudd
don’t want to alter their formula too drastically for their latest record, Volume 4: Songs in the Key of Love & Hate
. And while that decision certainly makes sense from a business perspective, it doesn’t do much for their artistic growth. A band for fans more than critics, this post-grunge
group continue to pledge allegiance to the Seattle sound of the ‘90s, but while Volume 4
has a likeable slickness, you can’t escape the fact that Puddle of Mudd are desperately, hopelessly, unapologetically derivative.
The Biggest Band a Lot of People Don't Know
Though Puddle of Mudd have never had a huge public profile – they’ve never been on the cover of Spin or Rolling Stone, and they’ve never had an album top the charts – they’ve strung together a series of No. 1 hits on rock radio over the last eight years. The secret to success for this Missouri quartet, led by frontman Wes Scantlin, has been their skill at producing crunchy, accessible, vaguely hard-rockin’ singles. These songs tend not to be very deep or memorable, but Puddle of Mudd on occasion have come up with something clever like “She Hates Me,” which mocks its own macho bluster. Unfortunately, throughout Volume 4, Scantlin only writes achingly sincere, humorless songs about very generic subject matter like true love and departed friends. If rock music was politics, you’d say that Puddle of Mudd stay on message and play to their base, but they don’t have much hope of converting independent voters.
To be fair, Volume 4
does have its share of mindless entertainment value if you’re simply in the mood for mindless hard rock. Puddle of Mudd’s insistence on blandly catchy tunes recalls earlier cheesy-rock bands like Journey
that were equally successful at producing completely inoffensive music for the widest audience possible. And on a breezy love song like “The Only Reason,” it’s easy to enjoy the band’s shallow pleasures – although you’d probably never want to admit it to your hipper friends. But the problem with Volume 4
, like so much of Puddle of Mudd’s work, is that it’s so desperate to please that it lacks any grit. Whether Scantlin is imagining some naughty interstellar sex on “Spaceship” or singing from the perspective of a spoiled-brat teenager on “Hooky,” the songs have little lasting impact. They hit the ear, and then they evaporate as soon as they’re over.
Following the Nirvana Playbook
As a singer, Scantlin hasn’t developed much range or subtlety over the years. He’s always sounded like a bad Kurt Cobain imitator, and that continues on Volume 4
. Both vocally and sonically, “Pitchin’ a Fit” and “Uno Mas” bring to mind Nirvana
’s “Stay Away,” while “Hooky” appears to be his attempt at rewriting “School” (without the social satire, of course). You could argue, and perhaps correctly, that Puddle of Mudd’s fans aren’t aware of Nevermind
, so such comparisons don’t mean a thing to them. That may be the case, but if you dig Volume 4
and aren’t familiar with Nirvana’s body of work, you’re really missing something amazing.
'Volume 4: Songs in the Key of Love & Hate' – Best Tracks: