It's easy to picture the Puddle of Mudd of a decade ago. Frontman Wes Scantlin's Cobainesque hair flowed out of a backward-fitted baseball cap, the guys were signed to Fred Durst's Flawless Records, and their breakthrough album, Come Clean, birthed four songs that got massive play locally on 93 Rock and PlayStations alike. Scantlin's locks are still boss, but a lot has changed since then.
Amid many lineup changes and friction with Durst, the group broke free from Flawless officially this year for the release of the appropriately and confusingly titled covers album, Re:(disc)overed. Now before any grunge-by-numbers considerations come out, know that this is a surprisingly fun record. Far from nü-metal versions of the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and Elton John, these recordings make Puddle of Mudd sound like the best bar band in the world.
Now, you may ask yourself: Self, why would I want to hear that? First, there's no annoying Auto-Tune, no drum machines, and no weird experimental key signatures. They took their favorite songs and played them note for note — damned near perfectly. Lead guitarist and cool-ass dude Paul Phillips took the words right out of our mouths by saying, "It's a '70s rock album recorded with modern gear.
"We took about six months off, we got ready to start touring, and didn't have anything written," he continues. "One thing led to another, and we compiled 30 covers. Thirty became 15, and 15 became the 11 for the album."
To catch the vibe of these classic songs, they convened at Stone Temple Pilots' drummer Eric Kretz's Los Angeles studio/loft. Instead of stacking the guitars to create that chunky, muddy sound our ears were used to for the past 20 years, they went for old-school stereo separation. Plus, Joe Walsh's piano player, Bill Appleberry, played on a few cuts.
The songs that didn't make the cut were "Cocaine" by Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help From My Friends," "Run to You" by Bryan Adams, and Cheap Trick's "Surrender." Phillips adds, "Sometimes the ones you don't expect end up being the gems and the ones you think are a no-brainer end up sucking."
A lot of the ones that made the record were a bit of a challenge. The guitarist admits they had some heavy shoes to fill, especially for Scantlin, on their high-voltage cover of AC/DC's "TNT." "[Wes] was miserable the whole time," he says. "On our records, we tune down a half step. On this record, I wanted to keep them true to how they were originally recorded." Hitting Bon Scott's stratospheric notes without sounding like a cartoon imitation of him has got to be a hard trick to do. Scantlin pulled it off, but not without cursing the whole time.
Give Puddle of Mudd a big chest bump for not doing any ironic covers on this collection. No one needs to hear a jacked-up version of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" or Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." (We're talking to you, Alien Ant Farm.) "A lot of bands go and do a cheesy song and make it rock so they have a hit pop song on the radio," Phillips says. "We wanted to tackle bands we were fans of or [that] meant something to us."
Admittedly, Puddle of Mudd faced past criticisms pegging the group as a Xerox of a carbon copy of a Nirvana bootleg. Re:(disc)overed, however, is a refreshing stretch out of their comfort zone and captures strictly well-loved songs and five bros having a rocking good time.
"It was more of a challenge to do them correctly than to go in and do the 'Puddle' thing on them," he says. "I don't wanna do that to the Stones; I don't wanna do that to Zeppelin. We can't hold a candle to those guys; they've already written the perfect song."
Still, it begged the question why they didn't tackle their heroes, Nirvana, on this album. "We've done 'Breed' live before, and that's what people might expect from us," Phillips says. "But they're still being played on modern rock radio. It would be, like, here's Nirvana with 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' followed by Puddle of Mudd doing 'Come as You Are.' I mean, come on, no way!"
It can't be said enough, but this is a highly likable Puddle of Mudd record. Don't let your cool-as-heck friends tell you otherwise. As Phillips says, "They're great songs already, so there's not much room to improve."