Los Angeles will always find a place in its heart for those who believe fun is everything — and stoopid fun is the best fun of all. That’s the best way to account for the Southern California herodom granted this thrashy, trashy bubblepunk band fronted by Kim Shattuck, once a member of the kickier Pandoras. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the Muffs — aside from Shattuck’s sometimes wince-inducing screech, that is — but try as they might, the band’s obsessively obtuse tunes don’t so much carry the Ramones’ torch as tag along in its shadow hoping to make something from its fallen ashes.
On the quartet’s full-length debut (which was preceded by a handful of sharp, memorable singles), the Muffs display abundant old-school pop savvy — “Saying Goodbye” is the kind of deadpan-sweet kiss-off tune that could’ve made Blondie a success sans disco beats — but curiously meager energy levels. The vast majority of the sixteen tracks fall into a desultory mid-tempo rut, which is a drag — either “From Your Girl” or “Every Single Thing” would have made a touching power ballad in less clumsy hands. Shattuck’s guitar leads do sparkle on several tracks, however, so much so that they made second guitarist Melanie Vammen (another ex-Pandora) expendable. (Rob Cavallo, who would become a lot better known for a Green Day album he worked on the following year, co-produced.)
Both Vammen and drummer Criss Crass departed during the two years between Muffs releases; the latter was replaced by ex-Redd Kross-er Roy McDonald. (Crass moved back to Seattle and joined the Rockinghams for a time but returned six years later in time to share drum chores with McDonald on Hamburger.) Thus reconstituted, the trio — again employing Cavallo — recorded Blonder and Blonder, a considerably more dynamic restatement of purpose. Less fussy than its predecessor, the album gives Shattuck a chance to accentuate her flair for sparkling melodies both goofy and melancholy (as evidenced by “Funny Face” and “Laying on a Bed of Roses”). On the other hand, the sparser backing draws more attention to her numbing caterwaul and rote lyric tosses — see “On and On” and “End It All.”