It’s an impossible task to review the new—and final—album from L.A. pop-punk greats The Muffs solely on its musical merits.
There are 18 tracks on No Holiday, the band’s seventh full-length and first since 2014’s excellent comeback album, Whoop De Doo. Most of them crackle with every bit of the likeable energy of The Muffs’ best work. Some showcase the band’s tender side more plainly than ever before. And several sound less like fully developed songs and more like fleshed out ideas for songs, or sketches that have been colored in with great care.
There’s a reason for that, of course. On Oct. 2, her family announced that Kim Shattuck, the primal force behind The Muffs for nearly 30 years, passed away at the age of 56 after a two-year battle with ALS. She had not publicly announced her illness. She had, however, spent her final months working closely with a small group of musicians—including longtime bandmates Ronnie Barnett (bass) and Roy McDonald (drums)—to turn her demos and home recordings into a final missive from one of the great underground bands of the post-Nirvana era.
From the start, The Muffs were Kim Shattuck and Kim Shattuck was The Muffs. That’s not to diminish the roles of Barnett or McDonald (or original members Melanie Vammen or Criss Crass), but the band’s sound was so strongly tied to Shattuck’s chord progressions, her catchy melodies and her world-class scream that it’s impossible to separate the band from its core songwriter and charismatic frontwoman.
As such, No Holiday works well as both a Muffs album and also a tribute to Shattuck’s skill, vision and drive. Because of the circumstances around its recording, her ragged howl only shows up occasionally, most notably on “Down Down Down,” which flutters and chugs as charmingly as anything from the band’s seminal first two albums. The same can be said for the crunchiest tune here, “Pollyanna,” a 90-second frolic with an organ part (played by Vammen) that illustrates The Muffs’ influence on a generation of West Coast psych/garage-rock bands.
Elsewhere, “Late and Sorry” and “Lucky Charm” are excellent examples of the way The Muffs juxtaposed singsong melodies with buzzsaw pop-punk, while “On My Own” is an arena-ready anthem that sounds like the song that could’ve made the band as big as Green Day—as they should’ve been. (Billie Joe Armstrong agreed: “She was one of my favorite songwriters,” he wrote on Instagram. “When we recorded (Dookie) we listened to the first Muffs record constantly.”)
No Holiday is also littered with songs that are obviously full-band arrangements built onto Shattuck’s lo-fi solo recordings, highlighted by “Sick of this Old World,” with its airy chorus and whistled solo. In its own way, this treatment illuminates the warmth that could be found in her songwriting when you looked past her snarl.
But the sweetest takeaways from the final Muffs album are songs where Shattuck’s humanity shines through. On “Earth Below Me,” for example, her voice sounds noticeably weakened as a rock band rumbles around her. Closing track “Sky” is a home-recorded jangle-pop tune with spots where it sounds like she’s making up lyrics as she goes along. And “A Lovely Day Boo Hoo” is a beautiful, Beatles-esque ballad that starts off with a simple declaration: “I’m OK. You’re insane.” “Go away and be strange,” she adds, her voice cracking slightly.
Is No Holiday perfect? It’s not. But it’s a wonderful reminder of the depth and the breadth of Kim Shattuck’s musical abilities, and thus it’s a perfect send-off for a small-but-mighty band. R.I.P. Kim Shattuck. Long live The Muffs.