“I just want to know what the heck is going on.” 

Sub Pop Rock City

National Music Reviews

“I just want to know what the heck is going on.” 

You see, there’s this place known as Sub Pop Rock City where something damn exciting has been brewing lately. It’s called the music scene which shits all over any other I’ve heard, ever! Music with balls, that crunches and kicks and demands to be heard. It’s all happening at this place you may have heard of, over yonder hills and valleys, called Seattle.

It rains a lot in Seattle, or so I’ve heard, and we all know that water is the source of life. It’s in your body, it’s in your beer, and it’s apparently stopped the brains of a record company known as Sub Pop, causing them to spout riffs like there’s no tomorrow.

I got my first taste of “pop” from this band called Soundgarden. Their Screaming Life EP was a little reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, but not in the way that makes one scream, “COPY!” No, it has more to do with immense range and talent that makes all of the songs unique and listenable. Having soon become obsessed with the band, I wrote to their label to find out if any other products were close at hand. To my dismay, there were no other Soundgarden fruits to be had. But, the little pamphlet told about some other treasures that sounded quite delectable: Mudhoney (Superfuzz Big Muff—Six epic songs of sickness from the masters of disease and grunge), Swallow (hard, raunchy, rock stuff from four dudes who drink beer and fuck), TAD (God’s balls—say’s it all), and many others. Such tasty descriptions set my mouth watering and my hand fidgeting around my ass, but when I found my wallet, I realized that it hadn’t been raining much in Salt Lake City. Trying to make the most of what I had, I opted for the compilation album, Sub Pop 200

It is this album that has been the source of my pleasure for the past few months. Twenty cuts by twenty different bands (well, one’s a rather biting poem), most of which originated on the Sub Pop label, the rest being compelled to add this recording for some reason. the most amazing aspect of the whole collection is that all of the cuts seem to go together so well, even though the diversity among the sounds is amazing. It is the ultimate label resume that gives Sub Pop a distinct personality, not to mention the Seattle music scene.

The foundation of it all is the sheer power that emanates from every song—the kind of power that sounds far from tamed, owing more to roller coaster rides and rusty old chainsaws. But perhaps it is the content of the lyrics that is most refreshing. Yes, there is one song with “love” in the title “Love or Confusion”, but the rest take earthly pleasures into more demented realms, such as “Sex God Missy,” “Spank Thru” and “Pajama Party in a Haunted Hive.” I don’t know where the inspiration comes from because it certainly doesn’t borrow from anything else I’ve heard.

It becomes evident to me that Sub Pop 200 is the greatest compilation of all time. But it’s also the only compilation that I own, which brings us to the eternal question: “So what?” 

Even the most pathetic band can find it in themselves to write or play one good song (I think). The big answer is that every Sub Pop album I’ve heard since is quite devastating, no shit! From the brutal barkings of TAD to the twisted melee of Mudhoney, there is very little that does not please. Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is that these bands all come from a town that one day started an underground scene, were probably shunned by the press, somehow got themselves together on the same local label, and are now gaining attention and acclaim worldwide. It is the combination of sheer talent and general cohesiveness that makes Sub Pop and its bands stand out from the rest. Wouldn’t it be nice to one day say the same of the Salt Lake music scene?

Read more SLUG 1989 Archives:
This Month’s Feature Attraction: American Music Club
Record Reviews: August 1989