Melvins have at this point earned the right to screw around a little. Granted, one could make the argument that they’ve been screwing around their entire careers, and while it hasn’t exactly earned them tremendous fortunes or worldwide ubiquity, they’ve done pretty well for themselves. Guitarist and usual-vocalist King Buzzo (Buzz Osborne) has been fronting the band for 35 years, and drummer Dale Crover (widely remembered as the pre-Grohl Nirvana drummer, unfair as that may be) has been around almost as long. In that time they have barely evolved at all, and that’s to their credit; few bands have ever made big heavy slabs of big heavy music quite the way Melvins did and do, and they’ve been more than happy to exist in their niche for as long as they have been around.
In a way, Pinkus Abortion Technician is a departure for Melvins, heavily hinted at by the album’s very title. Jeff Pinkus is one of two bassists on the album, alongside of-late “regular” Melvins bassist Steve McDonald. Pinkus was a member of Butthole Surfers, back when Butthole Surfers were a thing. The name of Butthole Surfers’ first album with Pinkus is Locust Abortion Technician. “Pinkus” sounds a little like “Locust,” sorta. It all fits together, more or less.
More importantly, however, Pinkus has his fingers all over the songs on the album named for him. There are eight songs here. Two of the songs (well, one-and-a-half) are covers of Butthole Surfers songs. Four of the songs feature a writing credit for Pinkus — two give him sole credit. The other two are a Beatles cover, because why not, and a one-and-a-half-minute ditty written by McDonald with his wife Anna Waronker (of that dog.) and Josh Klinghoffer (of Red Hot Chili Peppers). Crover and Buzzo only get one shared credit each. Mostly, the longtime members of Melvins are playing other peoples’ songs — it’s no wonder Pinkus got the title credit, this is more his album than anyone’s.
How does it sound? Pretty weird, really, which should come as no surprise. One of the Butthole Surfers covers starts the album: “Stop Moving to Florida” is a krazy-glue-‘n’-staples melding of James Gang’s “Stop” and Butthole Surfers’ “Moving to Florida”. The former is a relatively straightforward and heavy rock ‘n’ roll song, while the latter is a stop-start pseudo-spoken-word piece that offers lots of hick clichés alongside the occasional golden lyrical nugget like “I’m gonna grind me up a White Castle slider out of India’s sacred cow.” It’s a strange mashup that doesn’t quite work, and the decision to replace Gibby Haynes’ sinister sneer in “Moving to Florida” with a somewhat generic “stupid” vocal isn’t exactly a home run, either. It’s hard to see Melvins fans or Butthole Surfers fans getting much out of this. More successful is “Graveyard”, a Surfers cover that closes the album with something that sounds an awful lot closer to heavy, sludgy Melvins territory. Crover’s drums, in particular, plod just behind the beat throughout, giving it a knuckle-dragging sort of gait that works awfully well with Buzzo’s huge guitars and the dual bass attack.
In between those two bookends is a fine EP’s worth of material. “Embrace the Rub”, the McDonald/Waronker/Klinghoffer collaborative writing effort, is a fine big dumb punk song. “Break Bread” and “Prenup Butter” are mid-tempo and sludgy, solid but forgettable. “Flamboyant Duck” is a pleasing outlier, relying on acoustic guitars and Pinkus’ banjo playing for most of its textures, coming off something like one of Soundgarden’s more thoughtful moments. The cover of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is surprisingly faithful to the original, though the electric guitars and the drawn-out double-length notes of the chromatic bits leading into the “I think you’ll understand” lyric give it an unmistakably Melvins flair.
That leaves “Don’t Forget to Breathe”, assuredly the highlight of the album, written solely by Pinkus but with the most distinctive Melvins feel that the album has to offer. It lopes along with a half-drunk bluesy swagger, the drums and bass(es) offering an unsteady consistency while Buzzo creates some fantastic, creative textures all over everything. It’s a bludgeoning, chaotic eight minutes, utterly gleeful in its repetition and its off-balance lurch.
It’s clear that Melvins weren’t going for a classic here, exactly. Rather, they jammed with a friend, there was enough good material to cobble together an album, and here we are. It’s not terrible, but Melvins have released too many albums, and have had too many high points in their storied career, for Pinkus Abortion Technician to rise above the level of interesting curiosity. They had fun, and the result is fine. Good for them.