Listening to a new Melvins record is kind of like going out on a blind
date. Sometimes they're great, sometimes they suck, and despite what
you're told, you never know what to expect. Recently, I stayed in for a
date with the new Melvins record. I mixed up a few Vodka 'n juices,
plugged in my headphones, kicked back on the couch and cranked the volume
so I could fully experience the soothing sounds of the Melvins.
Well maybe they're not always soothing, but it's always an experience. The
Melvins are thought of by some as the "original" grunge rock band, you
know, the guys that invented flannel, distortion and taught Nirvana all
they know. Well, at least they were mentors to Nirvana. Even though
drummer Dale Crover is a living ressurection of John Bonham and the
Melvins tend to rock hard and heavy in one of the lowest frequencies known
to humans, most people who like rock or metal or punk don't like the
Melvins. I've taken many a friend who likes heavy bands like Sabbath or
Kyuss to Melvin's shows before, and they rarely appreciate them. Which is
not to say that the Melvins are a bad band by any means, it is just that
they can be weird. Sometimes they're weird artsy or strangely
funny, and sometimes they're just plain alienating. But there's always one
thing that you can count on about the Melvins-- you can't count on
anything. Some Melvins albums are really good and they rock so fucking
hard, but others are just noise, they flat out suck. Others are half
noise or weird shit and half good songs. Therefore, they are always the
veritable blind date.
So when I sat down with my Absolut apricot, I had no idea what to expect
from their latest release, Stag. The first song, "The Bit" opens
with some weird heavy metal sitar, throwing you off guard for a few bars
until the familiar crunch of drums and distortion make it sound like a
true Melvins song. Lots of heavy drumming and off beat riffing. Dale's
drum set is immense, and you can feel it in the recording. His toms are
like bass drums, his sticks are like tree trunks and his bass drum, well,
you get the idea. A gong stands behind him and he likes to play in only
his underwear, with a pair of extra sticks wedged in each side. I told you
he's a Bohnam incarnate.
But just when you think you've got them pinned again, the Melvins throw
you a curve. "Bar-X-the rocking M," is a strange, strange song.
Instruments played include the trombone, a keyboard, a DJ scratching and
the, uh, kitchen sink. The song is OK overall, but it's like they are
trying to make fun of something but only they get the joke.
By the fifth track, "The Bloat," the Melvins are once again rocking, in
the whining, slow groove that King Buzzo homes in on with his wall of amps
and big hair. They break it down and the bass line, like many other
Melvins songs, takes the lead melody and is followed by some weird
percussion from Crover, then is completed with Buzzo's devilish hiss
spewing out meaningless lyrics. Classic Melvins.
The album goes on like this over and over. There's a pop-country song with
whistling and then a slow, slow metal onslaught, with Dale Crover slicing
the heads on his drums and breaking his sticks. Then it's back into sounds
from the fish tank. Another notable song, "Skin Horse," starts out only
with an acoustic melody and Buzzo's vocals, but soon lurches back into
another heavy groove before getting weird towards the end. The Melvins are
all over the map, playing strange dramatic builds that last five or six
minutes and climax with. . . well, nothing. But then they play another
musical trick on you, the chaos turns to melody and the song that you
hated a second ago suddenly comes together to be complete. The last song,
"Cottonmouth," sounds like an outtake from Neil Young's, "Tonight's the
Night," except that I don't think Neil ever used train whistles in his
songs, even if he does collect model trains.
The album is long, 51 minutes. Or at least it feels long. The Melvins are
known for playing some of the heaviest riffs at the slowest speeds, and
they tend to draw out their songs and their albums. But the more you
listen to the album, the more it grows on you. Songs that you didn't
really care for suddenly seem appealing and songs that you liked earlier
times start to sound familiar. And with sixteen tracks and classic hessian
liner art, you're definitely getting your money's worth.