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Prettier Than You 

Wednesday, Jun 16 1999
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"CLICK HERE FOR NAKED PICTURES OF SEXY KIM SHATTUCK!"

Although the lead Muff got a laugh after learning that her celebrity skin was exposed deep inside a Web site, she certainly wasn't anxious to check it out. "I already know what it looks like, and I don't want to see it," she says.

Still, you gotta admit, when you're nude on the Net -- even if it's not really your body -- you've managed to achieve some degree of notoriety. And Shattuck and her Muffs (bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald) have done something many bands in this age of one-hit wonderdom would kill for: They've endured. "Our career's actually been quite okay," says the bespectacled Barnett. "Whereas if we were Nada Surf, maybe we had a hit on KROQ, but then what? Even when they have ã that hit on KROQ, they're playing to eight people at the Troubadour."

The Muffs have been serving up a timeless blend of raw, attitude-laced punk-pop for almost a decade, oblivious of passing fancies like grunge and neo-punk. Oblivious, even, of the L.A. scene that spawned them. ("Scene? What scene?" jokes Barnett. "Yeah, we feel a real kinship with bands like Tsar.") What they haven't done, however, is sell many records. For which they've paid a price. After failing to score monstro sales with their second album, 1995's Blonder and Blonder, the band became little more than a tax write-off to their label, Reprise Records. And in the bottom-line-obsessed culture that followed the artist-friendly Mo & Lenny regime at Warner Bros., it was a no-brainer for the suits to pull the plug on the band in 1997, soon after the release of Happy Birthday to Me. "It's all about what sells now, not about building a career," says Barnett. "We'll see if Britney Spears has a third record."

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To Warner Bros., the Muffs say good riddance. Although the label gave them creative control over their records and a nice catering budget ("We always came out of the studio looking fat as pigs," says Shattuck), they got little else by way of support. "By the time it actually happened," says McDonald, "we had finished all our stressing out. It was kind of a relief."

Seated on a zebra-striped couch inside Shattuck's East Hollywood abode, surrounded by kitschy big-eyed paintings and an impressive collection of Pillsbury Doughboys, the trio are in good cheer on the eve of their post-major-label career with Alert Today Alive Tomorrow, their debut on Honest Don's M-M-Good Recordings, an offshoot of Fat Wreck Chords. So much so, in fact, that the conversation quickly turns to Jeff Beck's alleged flexible anatomy, the benefits of such, and how this morsel could've enriched This Is Spinal Tap. "I've got a loose spine," McDonald says in his best Tufnel-ish English. "I can suck me own willy."

Their devil-may-care approach is laid out in the album's opening lyrics. Following an ear-ringing barrage of Who-like power riffs, Kim snidely remarks, "Life is a joke." It's a simple mantra that sets the tone for the 13-song collection, which, like past Muffs records, is chock-full of Shattuck's sandblasted dissing, with an extra helping of morose depression in songs like "Numb" and "Another Ugly Face."

"I was going through a lot of upheavals in my brain," Shattuck explains. "The only way I could really get stuff out was to write songs. Before, I would attack other people. I'd be mean. Now I've turned the attack inward. This is like therapy for me."

"That's why Kim didn't want to have a lyric sheet," says McDonald. "She was afraid they would come after her with a butterfly net." But there are also ever-so-subtle signs that Shattuck's -- gasp! -- maturing. Her trademark primal screams are limited to one song (the dripping-with-sarcasm "Blow Your Mind"), and she sings without the snarl (on the deceptively vitriolic "Prettier Than Me" and the waltzy "Room With No View"). "I had that focus of, oh my God, if Peter Brady comes out of my voice right now I'm going to be so mad," Shattuck says. "Of course, it did."

WHILE ALERT IS HARDLY MELLOW, IT didn't contain enough fast numbers to qualify for release on Fat Wreck Chords proper. "We fall between cracks," Barnett says. "We skirt punk and pop and all the steps. We don't sit around listening to the Lag Wagon, you know."

Neither, though, are they becoming squeezably soft. Blessedly, they're still the same ol' Muffs. Which means you won't find them onstage at Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair anytime soon.

"Sarah, you're an idiot, you're boring and dull, and I'm not going to go braless, I'm a D-cup," says the fully clothed Kim Shattuck. "People would be throwing beads at us and crystals, and their bras. Besides, I don't like to see people's toes. I have a thing about that. No toes."

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