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Grunge Masters: Cassette Tape Reviews

I am cheating a bit here with these reviews. Not really cheating, but at the very least, I am stretching the definition of “used.” Or maybe I’m opting for another definition altogether—used as in “utilized.” Regardless, these records have definitely been well used over the years, and I discovered, quite by accident, that all three of these albums are still available on cassette. As an aging Gen Xer and a fan of the format, I had to have them.

Grunge Masters Cassettes

Cassette Reviews of the Grunge Masters

All three of these Sub Pop releases take me back to the late ‘80s, which coincided with my late teenage years. Listening to them will always shuttle my brain back to the dorms of DePaul University, back when grunge was just starting to bubble up in the Pacific Northwest and flood the world. As older folks must preface nearly every sentence when younger people are within earshot, this was before the internet. And before cell phones and before IPAs were a thing too. Back when this music was new even if its influences were not.  

Mudhoney Super Fuzz Big Muff  cassette tape cover


Superfuzz Bigmuff [Sub Pop] 1988

Superfuzz Bigmuff couldn’t be better named because the effects pedals for which it is named are themselves so aptly named. This six-song EP  is a snarly combination of cheese-grater vocals and scuzzed-out guitars. A multi-sensory version of this release would smell like beer and taste like bongwater but also vice versa. With classic songs such as “Touch Me I’m Sick,” “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” and “In ‘n’ Out of Grace,” this album helped set the template for a genre that didn’t even know it existed yet. Superfuzz Bigmuff sounds just as nasty and glorious today as it did back in the day.

Nirvana Bleach cassette tape cover


Bleach [Sub Pop] 1989 

Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, was a life changer for a lot of folks when it dropped at the ass-end of the ‘80s, myself included. I spent my last eight bucks on this record over Christmas break the year of its release because I was stuck in the dorm without a copy. It’s hard to believe I could buy this album but was not yet legally able to buy beer, because it is a potent brew of depressive dirges, punk attitude, and a “don’t-give-a-fuck-bout-nuthin” slacker ethos. The album, famously recorded for $606.17, sold 40,000 copies between its release and the band’s major label debut two years later. That’s kind of astronomical for an underground band, but nowhere close to the nearly 2 million copies it would sell in a post-Nevermind world. Every song is a stoner burnout classic and it sounds great on cassette too, because why wouldn’t it?

Soundgarden  Screaming Life/Fopp EP cassette cover


Screaming Life/Fopp EP [Sub Pop] 1990 

To complete this sacred trilogy of grunge, I submit to you Screaming Life/Fopp. This EP, released in 1990, is a comp. featuring two of the band’s EPs from the late ‘80s. It’s metal in slow-mo with Sabbath-paced songs and a cleaner sound than that of most of Soundgarden’s fellow grunge bands. Either way, it’s as heavy as the best of them and, as the Chris Cornell photo on the cover attests,  hair was also on proud display. The menace of “Hunted Down,” the band’s first single, and its b-side “Nothing to Say” are tense and menacing. I was always partial to “Little Joe” and its line “Go to where the reptiles roam. They’re waiting for you, Little Joe,” (probably due to the reptile reference) and if a grunge band wants to cover a funky Ohio Players tune like “Fopp,” more power to ‘em. —Chris Auman

If you enjoyed reading these Grunge Masters cassette reviews, you should order a copy of Used Records and Tapes!

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