It’s rare and welcome to burst out laughing within seconds of hitting play but the Melvins “I Fuck Around” — a juvenile cover of the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” — is a total giggle retaining all the layered bounce and sunshine of the original, with a tad more honesty about what much music of that time was actually about. The outro, with its keyboard sounds and demand to “stop fucking around!” is disarming and sets the listener up in good spirits.
That refreshing sense of humor endures throughout the portentously titled Working With God. Even the press release was a hoot with casual asides directed at band members (“union jobs… must be nice asshole”), other bands (“it’s the album bands like Green Day and Metallica wish they could put out if they only had the guts”), and a tongue-in-cheek explanation for the title: “because it was time to get right with the lord.”
Coinciding with limited edition vinyl reissues of acknowledged Melvins’ classics Gluey Porch Treatments (1987) and Hostile Ambient Takeover (2002), Working With God is a follow-up to 2013’s Tres Cabrones which saw Dale Crover and Buzz Osborne reconnect with founding member Mike Dillard. Their work together had previously been seen on collections of 1983 demos (2005’s Mangled Demos, 2012’s 1983 EP), then expanded after the album with three new songs on 2016’s Basses Loaded and others on the Beer Hippy EP of 2015. With Dillard doing a significant quantity of the drum work, the results are a more straightforwardly ‘rock’ unit that the band dubs Melvins 1983.
The album has some great old-school fun going on. “Negative No No” time-warps right back to a scuzzy Aberdeen, Washington practice room and rocks hard n’ heavy. There’s also still room for surprises, the on-a-dime switch at the end of the solo is great, drums gradually emerging from the rubble to tap out a revival, then the chunky and pugnacious main riff appreciated in isolation. “The Great Good Place” meanwhile feels like an attempt to capture that singalong 1970s hard rock chorus vibe, except submerged under a haze of static.
Melvins also can’t help but remain a musically intelligent unit even when they’re playing dumb. Each song sticks around for precisely as long as it has ideas to cover, then departs. “Caddy Daddy” would have fitted in well back during the Seattle Rock City heyday with its guttural growl and climbing riff — it’s also a good chance to appreciate Osborne’s talent for vocal theatricality (à la wildly under-exposed Scratch Acid). “Boy Mike” is another ripping hybrid of hard rock/punk/metal with no room for breath and a mass of invention, breakdown section following breakdown for one of the longer songs here. “Brian, The Horse-Faced Goon” also belies its comedy title with neat metal percussion, a stomping beat, and surging down notes around the word “gooooon!” that caught me right in the pit of my stomach.
It’s not entirely a fresh selection. “Hot Fish” came out as a collaboration with Flipper on a 2019 EP (this version is slightly less squally). Meanwhile, four songs came out on the Mullet EP last year — the EP’s title winking or spitting at the tonsorial fashions of the far west of Washington State, an area Osborne and Crover have made no secret of despising. As well as “I Fuck Around”, “1 Fuck You” is a take on Harry Nilsson’s “You’re Breaking My Heart” — revved up until it sounds like a quality Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers outtake. Meanwhile, “Good Night Sweetheart” is an irreverent cover of “Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnite”. In addition, “Fuck You” is a 25-second outro snarl, while “1 Brian, The Horse Faced Goon” is essentially a comedy skit, like a truly weird children’s TV theme tune.
The album still hangs together though, despite the two skits, the covers, the reheats. Its sheer exuberance shines through in what is a sub-40-minutes headlong sprint from start to finish. It’s understandable why the band were proud enough of last year’s EP that they wanted to bring its songs to wider attention. “Bouncing Rick” has the kind of dials into the red overload Iggy Pop was aiming for when he remixed Raw Power in 1996 — except “Bouncing Rick” is way more successful.
While they’ve been as busy as ever, there’s maybe slight regret that Melvins — a band who always seemed little inclined to glimpse wistfully into the rear-view mirror — seem to be spending ever more time ‘back in the day’ working with a trusted circle of friends. For example, there was last year’s collaboration with Mudhoney, covers of the Tubes or Black Sabbath, splits with Redd Kross, Off, and MC5, and their EP with Flipper. Having recently heard veteran sonic terrorists Boris break new ground with Merzbow, or Earth and The Bug do great things on 2017’s Concrete Desert, it’s hard not to want to see Osborne and Crover taking fresh risks.
Having said that, it’s great that — unlike many veterans — they’re playing with such obvious relish and enjoyment. It’s impossible to begrudge them their fun! It’s also really enthusing seeing them still putting time and energy into championing new groups like Le Butcherettes and Sweden’s Shitkid. While some bands just play lip service, Melvins still give a shit and I look forward to seeing where they go next after this enjoyable album that added a little light to these oppressive winter grey skies.