Let’s just get this out of the way upfront. The U-Men weren’t a grunge band of the 1990s. They weren’t even a band in the ’90s. The U-Men was a concoction of Captain Beefheart meets Pere Ubu with a little Link Wray and a heavy dose of their hometown brethren The Sonics.
Mudhoney front man Mark Arm once called the U-Men “the undisputed kings of the Seattle Underground” from 1983 to 1987.
The U-Men — John Bigley (vocals), Tom Price (guitar), Charlie Ryan (drums), and Jim Tillman (bass) —recorded a handful of singles, their first — a four song 12-inch vinyl EP released by Bombshelter Records, the pre-label of Sub Pop co-founder, Bruce Pavitt. Then they moved on to the famed Homestead Records where they were labelmates with Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, and Green River. More singles would follow and so would bass players after Tillman left the U-Men in 1986 and was replaced by Robin Buchan (1980-82), then Tom Hazelmyer (1987), and finally, Tony Ransome (1987-89). It was said by Mark Arm in the band’s bio that the U-Men lost some of their live edge when Tillman left, but the band soldiered on releasing their one and only full-length album, 1988’s ‘Step on a Bug’ put out by Black Label Records.
The long player, along with all their singles, plus five previously unreleased tracks have been compiled by Sub Pop Records for this U-Men self-titled 2-CD/3-LP box set. The remastered 30-song release, which was produced by Jack Encino, also features a 16-page book of photo, liner notes and interviews with the band.
The U-Men anthology showcases an iconic underground band, which influenced countless Seattle bands, some of which went on to fame and fortune. But it was the U-Men’s quirkiness, dark undertones and powerful stage presence that made them who they were. You still can’t beat songs like “Shoot ‘em Down,” “The Fumes,” “Cow Rock,” and “Dig It a Hole” to get you off.
Hallelujah, let’s rock.