[1 July 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
“The Water Glass”, the lead-off track on the Melvins’ bazillionth studio album, starts off exactly how you expect it to start. A monolithic Buzz Osbourne riff, as fuzzed-out as his ‘fro, as heavy as Black Sabbath’s Born Again or Eyehategod’s Dopesick, but also possessing that unmistakable sense of groove that sets the Melvins apart from any other band in rock and metal. This riff not only crushes, but it swings, punctuated perfectly by the massive, tribal beats by drummers Dale Crover and Coady Willis, which exude a Steve Albini-recorded vibe. It’s a wicked little jam that leads us to believe that this band is ready to equal the primal energy of such seminal albums as 1991’s Bullhead or 1993’s Houdini, or at the very least rank as the heaviest release by the current lineup of this band, which is entering its fifth year.
84 seconds in, however, the guitars fade out and Crover and Willis suddenly and inexplicably launch into a drum solo, erm, duo, that, for some strange reason, starts to resemble a march. When we do finally hear Osbourne’s distinct voice, he’s not so much the cult figure “King Buzzo” as he is a drill sergeant, as he and his bandmates engage in a demented a cappella call-and-response that simultaneously evokes the Marines and the insipidly fun rave-ups of the ‘80s (“Rock me rock me rock / Rock steady / Roll me roll me / Roll me ready”). Needless to say, that we didn’t expect.
One thing that’s never been in doubt is the fact that the Melvins have been enjoying a creative renaissance ever since Osbourne and Crover welcomed young pups Willis and bassist Jared Warren, also known as the two-piece band Big Business, into the fold. For a band that has gone through bassists like Kleenex, not only is there stability in the band’s lineup for the first time in a while, but it’s also resulted in surprising musical chemistry between the four musicians. Sure, having two drummers was a masterstroke of an idea, but the songs themselves have been above average, whether on 2006’s brilliant (A) Senile Animal or 2008’s less consistent yet enjoyable Nude With Boots. With The Bride Screamed Murder, though, the quartet has decided to truly flex its creative muscle, an in so doing have put together an album that’s one of their weirdest efforts in a long while, and also one of their most genuinely fun.
This album is rife with oddities, yet it always feels like a Melvins record. The stuttering cadences of “Pig House” are juxtaposed with melodic riffs that are anything but sludgy, the catchy hard rock gradually giving way to a silly, chanted outro. The melodic “Hospital Up” goes for a similar languid feel as Torche, as if interpreted by Dada-era Alice Cooper, eventually collapsing into a coda of free jazz piano and squeaking balloons. The band puts a completely new spin on the Who’s “My Generation”, but like Nevermore’s take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, it’s more of a re-interpretation than a straight-up cover, slowed down to a crawl, Warren’s lumbering bassline leading the way, the shouted lyrics more sarcastic than earnest, the song’s latter half more mournful than celebratory. Even more unique is the album’s final track “P.G. x 3”, a rendition of the Nova Scotian traditional “Peggy Gordon” performed three different ways: first, a tender lone melodica, then a haunting a cappella version that inexplicably matches the dusky majesty of Fleet Foxes, and finally a roaring performance by Osbourne on guitar.
This being a Melvins album, there’s no shortage of the kind of riff-centric beasts that we know they’re capable of, and as “The Water Glass” hints at, the band sounds as massive as ever, whether on the fantastic, ferocious “Evil New War God”, the menacing “Electric Flower”, or the rampaging “Inhumanity and Death”. As they prove constantly on The Bride Screamed Murder, though, there’s so much more to this band these days than merely crushing riffs; there’s more than enough room to go nuts with the experimentation and still come up with a top-tier Melvins record.