Having trouble keeping that 20-year marriage afloat? Stuck in a mind-numbing rut? Have no idea how to keep your life fresh? Allow me to point you towards the Melvins. Now in their 29th year as a band, the group has released their new album Basses Loaded, and they still sound as vigorous and full of fresh material as they did as when they sprung out of the cold corner of Washington in 1987. Known for delivering virulent, doomy stoner rock that never sounds overly familiar since the grunge era was in its cradle, the Melvins, notorious for switching bass players and having a constantly rotating lineup, decided to just go ahead and use six for this go-round. The laundry list of pluckers includes: Steve MacDonald (of Redd Kross), Jeff Pinkus (of the Butthole Surfers), Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle/Fantomas), Jared Warren (Big Business), the Melvin’s own Dale Crover, and ex-Nirvana and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Krist Novoselic. According to lead singer Buzz Osborne all these guys are here to give “the whole album a good kick in it’s big fat ass”.
The result of this glut of talent on the four strings is an album that is just as heavy, creative and full of ridiculousness as any of their albums (which, by the way, is now a list that extends comfortably into the 20s). Despite being around since the late ’80s, the Melvins never seem to grow tired or repetitive, due in a large part to front man Buzz Osborne’s wacky imaginative and no limits attitude to challenge his band. Always bringing in new talent, adding drummers, swapping out bassists, playing songs in whatever manner or style they see fit, the Melvins are a staple of unorthodox and consistently solid rock music that have flown under the radar of many for too long.
This album is no great shift in formula, however each bassist does lend a hand in shaping each one of these songs to give each track its own unique personality. The album begins with “The Decay of the Lying”, a slow, crawling song that goes heavy on the doom, something that is right up the Melvin’s alley since their rookie album in 1987 Gluey Porch Treatments. What follows is an album that is a revolving door between contagious rocking-rollers, crushing and tyrannical onslaughts of metal, and a dabble into the absurd.
“Choco Plumbing” and “I Want to Tell You” are the two up-tempo sing-along rockers, filled with harmonized vocals and contagious foot tapping fun. Songs like these aren’t uncommon from the Melvins, but honestly are too seldom made because its something they are very good at and these two tracks are solid proof of their ability to make loud, gleeful rock ‘n’ roll.
The bulk of this album, however, is a driving battalion of sludgy, riff-laden metal. Tracks like “Beer Hippie” and “Phyllis Dillard”, both from bassist Dale Crover, are those songs instantly recognizable as Melvins signatures, with marching down-tuned guitar lines, a chunky bass filling up the low end, overlaid with Osborne’s low and crooning howl made complete by swirling, turbulent guitar solos that materialize out of the sludgy main lines. Then you get to a track like “Captain Come Down”, that starts off with a steady mean hook that marches through a solo heavy two minutes before completely letting loose in the last minute. After that follows “Hideous Woman” which picks up right where the previous song left off, berating the listener’s ears with a blasts of buzzing guitars, pounding drums, trudging bass and vocals from King Buzzo that border on the edge between incanting and snarling.
The final type of song, present on any Melvins album, is “that one”. The wacky, often polarizing, and never dull songs that showcase King Buzzo’s creative talent. The first one of these is “Shaving Cream”, an obscene, outrageous and hilarious little jingle complete with a carnival style bass line, electronic rhythms, oven bells, whistles, and a wild outro. Following that is “Planet Destruction” perhaps the most mindboggling of any song in recent Melvin’s history. The first half of its six-minute duration is a spaced out, psychedelic rock jam and just as you settle into the trippy ride the song takes a ridiculously unexpected turn into an all out improv-style jazz jam. Featuring a standup bass line, some jazzy drums and solos, this is not one any Melvins fan is likely to expect or forget. Former Nirvana member Krist Novoselic’s contribution to this album isn’t very forgetful either, a goofy, handclapping good times tune that finds Novoselic playing an accordion. The album closes sticking with its baseball themed title, and makes an appropriate homage to Osborne’s lifelong love of the sport with a keyboard and choral rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.
Undoubtedly solid, diverse and finding well good use of its plethora of bass players and its loveable, nutty front man, Melvins deliver yet another solid release. Is it for everyone? No, but everyone won’t read this review and if you are, you have a good picture of who the Melvins are by now and I suggest you give this album a try. Even for a newcomer, Basses Loaded comes with a wide pallet of sounds from a band that refuses to be nailed down and continually demonstrates their place as one of the most consistently and reliably creative talents in the rock genre.