Lamestains: Grunge, Sub Pop and the Music of the Loser

Reaktion. Nov. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9781789147063. $25. MUSIC
Attfield (music, Univ. of Birmingham; Challenging the Modern) analyzes the indie Sub Pop record label, which helped launch Northwest grunge music. He begins with Bruce Pavitt’s 1980 Subterranean Pop fanzine and moves to the origins of the label with the compilations of the 1986 Sub Pop 100 and the 1988 Sub Pop 200. Viewing the label as both a brilliant marketing tool and a crass, misogynistic, and unabashedly commercial venture, the author chronicles the selling of Sub Pop’s regional punk/metal by using the antihero, anti-corporate, tongue-in-cheek caricature of the bands as primitive losers. The label reinforced this with album inserts, Charles Peterson’s blurry photos, Lame Fest concerts, the limited-edition, colored-vinyl Singles Club, and even “secret” messages hand-etched in records. He critically discusses songs by the fuzzy Mudhoney, the sludgy, pile-driven Tad, and the punk/pop sound of early Nirvana. The book ends with Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary celebrations. There are well-researched secondary sources, but the author ignores grunge icons Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, pays short shrift to Soundgarden, and sidesteps the critical importance of grunge as the embodiment of a disillusioned Generation X.
VERDICT A solid analysis, but it omits grunge’s impact and some of its icons.
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