[29 July 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
After going through countless (okay, seven) bassists over the course of a couple decades, for its 92nd (okay, 15th) full-length album stoner rock legends the Melvins decided to throw their adoring fans a bit of a curveball by adding not just a new bassist, but an entire friggin’ band to the mix. Granted, said band was merely a duo, but the addition of fabulously talented noise rockers Big Business was a brilliant move, as bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis, together with longtime Melvins drummer Dale Crover, formed arguably the mightiest Melvins rhythm section to date, the perfect bottom end to underscore the monolithic riffs and otherworldly howl of inimitable guitarist/vocalist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne. The addition of the Big Business boys obviously helped light a creative spark under Osborne and Crover, whose music had been stagnating for a while, as 2006’s terrific (A) Senile Animal proved to be the Aberdeen, Washington band’s finest album in many years. It felt like a bit of a rebirth for the Melvins, another case of young blood helping inspire a couple of old fogies who were in a rut, and we could only assume that it would lead to perhaps even better things in the future.
The band’s follow-up Nude With Boots is far from an outright failure, no question, but when compared to the rampaging (A) Senile Animal, it actually feels like Warren and Willis are the ones doing the following. In fact, in direct contrast to the last album being the band’s bravest in a long time, Nude With Boots is actually the band’s safest, most pedestrian album in a long while. The music, that fabulous mass of guitar sludge and throttling drum fills, is still mighty enjoyable, but this kinder, gentler incarnation of the Melvins seems oddly uncharacteristic.
It actually comes as a bit of a shock to hear the light, almost whimsical groove of “The Kicking Machine” that starts off the record, Osbourne and Warren settling into a bouncy little blooze riff as Willis and Crover hammer out a beat reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times”. It’s fun, it’s wickedly hooky, but it’s also something we’d rather hear from a band like Fu Manchu or Brant Bjork, not a mighty lumbering beast like the Melvins. But ironically, as the album plays on, it’s these rather run-of-the-mill, upbeat songs that manage to outshine the more turgid fare we’ve come to expect. “Suicide in Progress” centers on a jittery little riff by Osborne that engages with a downright whimsical call-and-response from the rhythm section before downshifting into a mood piece reminiscent of Love It to Death-era Alice Cooper. “The Smiling Cobra” comes close to approaching the fury of the last album, “The Stupid Creep” is a cool, 88-second blast of garage rock, and the title track backpedals suddenly into a hippy-dippy groove befitting a jam band, which would be a colossal flop if it wasn’t do damned catchy.
As for the slow stuff, much of it falls flat. Featuring the most tiresome dual drum intro you’ll hear this year, “Billy Fish” is nothing but third-rate grunge, feeling 20 years too late. The seven and a half minute “Dog Island” is a bit of an improvement, Osbourne’s riff mean as hell, but the drumming of Crover and Willis lacks the primal force we’ve come to expect. Album closer “It Tastes Better Than the Truth” does see the band regaining its footing in that stoner tar pit, but conversely, the performance of the classical piece “Dies Iraea” (also heard in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining) is so by-the-book and predictable, its desired effect is lost almost immediately, coming close to derailing the album.
Having two drummers rarely works well, especially on record, but the Melvins made it work on (A) Senile Animal. As the comparatively tepid Nude With Boots proves, though, such a balance is very difficult to maintain, as the new album’s more lightweight riffs lack the subtle fills the music needs, the duo of Crover and Willis sounding clunky as a result. It’s not a bad piece of work overall, but when we want to hear classic Melvins, “pleasant” music isn’t exactly what we’re looking for.