(Ipecac Records, 2010)
Another day, another Melvins album, this their fifteenth ‘proper’ album (depending on where you look inside the internet. Some say 19, but I only found 15) to sit alongside the myriad ep’s, singles, live albums and other assorted miscellany. I mention their longevity because firstly, the Melvins have been around for so long that it would be a crime if anyone has genuinely not heard of them, and secondly, because by now it would be far too easy to compare this new release against the expansive back catalogue to see how it rates amongst your favourites.
Because honestly, King Buzzo‘s crew have never been that kind of band. Every album is a separate entity to the last, and not necessarily a progression either. Of course the last few albums, ‘(A) Senile Animal’ and ‘Nude With Boots’ have been made by the new line up that is half Melvins, half Big Business, and complimented by the thunderous two drummers approach, but even then the first of these was a glorious celebration of subverted doomy classic rock, the second an oddity of rolling doom and jazzy experimentation that was good if never great.
It only takes just over a minute of opener ‘The Water Glass‘ before Buzz pulls the rug from underneath you on this one, as what had seemed a slightly odd but straighforward Melvins-esque riff is replaced with a military tattoo drumbeat, expertly and thunderously pounded out by Dale Crover and Coady Willis, and a call and response rock and roll vocal line that is quite simply jaw-dropping. If you manage to pick it out of your brains at any point in the 48 hours after you hear it, then you are a skilled and acomplished sorcerer.
After this, what you have is essentially an album that veers between the Melvins twin sensibilities of making garage rock pop materpieces that throttle you with riffs born of a different time, and the other Melvins, the crazy ones who like to do stop start avant garde noise pieces without any consideration of whether people might actually enjoy listening to it. Several songs end randomly in the middle and are replaced by dirges or cowbell loving drum solos, or awash in squeals of trumpets and at one point, I swear the sound of two balloons being rubbed together. What’s more, the approach works perfectly. Rather than tire of the more out-there stuff, it only hangs around long enough for you to laugh at the bombasity of including it in the first place before another killer riff distracts you.
The overall energy and mood here is one of playfullness, far more than in its predecessor which always felt a little overly glum to be truly enjoyable. Here the band sound like they themselves are having buckets of fun, expecially Buzz himself, who is at full bombast mood throughout. Third track ‘Pig House‘ for instance starts off with Buzz on air raid siren duty, enfusing the bouncy riff with a sense of pomp, before the whole song lurches into carnival terror territory, before moving again into a whispered drum ending. It’s beserk, and it shouldn’t work, but then the Melvins have been at this game for so long that it shouldn’t really be any surprise that Buzz et al have an instinctual feel for what will and won’t work by now. The rolling, changeable nature of the album continues, with fifth track ‘Electric Flower‘ a particular stand out, all rolling double drums and spacey God-speaking-from-upon-high vocals, one of the more obviously Big Business inspired tracks on the album. Mind you, the whole album is an almost perfect marriage of the two band’s sounds, to the point where it’s hard to see the join any more. ‘Hospital Up’ is doomy and portenteous, with pitch adjusted vocals infusing an added air of oddity before the whole thing collapses under its own weight with the aformentioned squealing ballons performing a eulogy of sorts, and the last ‘proper’ track on the album ‘Inhumanity and Death’ closes things off with an old school punky blast of riff and snarled lyrics.
But if you are thinking to yourselves that this only represents seven tracks, barely enough to register as an album, then fear not pedants, as we are then treated to the absulute lunacy that are the two closing tracks. First we have a cover of The Who‘s ‘My Generation‘ although this being the Melvins of course it’s not as simple as all that. No, instead the punky upstart nature of the original is thrown out and the whole thing is slowed down to a snail’s pace, replete with Buzz‘s sneering sarcastic of delivery of those famous lines subverting their meaning to the point of ridiculousness. Oh, and it’s nearly 8 minutes long. Then, as if this wasn’t enough, we’re then treated to ‘P.G. x 3‘ an almost acapella funereal hymnal that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of those Sting albums where he’s rescuing medieval folk music from the passage of time, just because his sense of smugness and self importance is rivalled only my your average iPad owner. Then the singing is gone, and a child is talking, and there’s feedback, and it’s like someone has smuggled a microphone into your nightmare. And yet…it’s still marvellous.
Because that’s what this album is. Marvellous. Full of everything you could want from a Melvins album, from the big riffs, the sludge, the bombast, and the cracking tunes, all sprinkled illiberally with the detritus of King Buzzo‘s lunatic mind to create something that is both engaging and off-putting, pompous and self-deprecating, baffling and brilliant.