Their first release since the avant garde “Freak Puke”, this record is a return to the heavy drumming and electric bass that anchors so much of their older catalog. The production is slicker for them though, and it sounds like there are just a ton of guitars on here, tho Buzzo can make a hell of a noise on his own too.
The opening track Warhead starts with a heartbeat of a drum line, slow and trudging along, it leads into the growl and slam of the chorus. . “WARRRRHEAAAAAD” That has to be Scott Kelly on the chorus vocals, what a growl! It’s about what you would expect the record, or a good dark Melvins show to start with. Eagerly, I waited for the second song to start as the last sounds trickled out of Warhead.
At first I thought I had somehow hit the random button on my media player, but no, it was the Melvins, covering Queen’s “Best Friend” THis was an unexpected hard left turn, the keyboard lightly playing on the keys, and the vocal way up there, sounding like a decent rendition of Freddy Mercury. It was a decent cover, and it was super weird, but hey, thsi is a Melvins record. This song featured Caleb Benjamin of Tweak Bird, i’m guessing on vocals, as they were in a higher range than most Melvins tunes.
Realizing this was a cover album, I instantly looked at it from a different angle. Not that I was less interested in the actual music, but just the realization that there is nothing new going on here makes me see this as more just an exploration. What do the Melvins listen to? Well, check this record out and get an idea.
Then Ram Jam’s Black Betty came on, and I checked the playlist, how many covers would there be? Black betty was ok, not as heavy as I like from these guys, kind of light hearted and whimsical. If I went to a show, and they started with these three, I honestly think I would be disappointed. Some of my favorite songs from the Melvins are covers. In fact, on Freak Puke, Let Me Roll It was my favorite tune. This tune wasn’t doing it for me. SKIP.
Set it on Fire by The Scientists features Mark Arm of Mudhoney, and gets really loud and raucous. Tinges of Nick Cave’s Grinderman in the sound, and the bass really anchors this tune with a mellow groovy looping hook that slithers nicely into the chorus. I’m not familiar with The Scientists, but after this, I will be exploring that as well. Good tune. Mid tempo, and heavy.
Station to Station is a David Bowie cover, and I really love the way Buzzo brings the BIG fuzz sound into this, really brings the guitar lick to the forefront, while in the Bowie version it’s way subtle and in the background. A great example of a tune that these guys love, and have made their own, injecting a little life and fun into this classic.
ATTITUDE came on next, full of fire and well, attitude. I realized this was a cover, and again checked the track listing. This is a Kinks tune, and I knew I had heard it before. I have an older buddy who used to jam with them back in the UK, and I forwarded him a link to the tune, I thought he would get a kick out of it. This is a later Kinks tune, and I had forgotten how huge these guys were, and it was good to think about that again. Thanks Melvins. THis tune is a real rocker, with a lot of punk attitude in it. There is a rad drum solo in the bridge, and it comes back after a nice breakdown into a full on riff fest. Total guitar boner.
Female Trouble came on next, starting off low and slow with a bluesy bass lick, getting the head bobbing, and laying down a nice foundation for the gruff, angry vocals. Sounds like a stand up bass on this one, ala Freak Puke. Really smooths out the sound without taking away any heaviness. Drums are lighter on this one also, the snare sounds less bright, and the drums cut through less in general. This song next to Best Friend sound like two completely different bands. This tune was originally released by Divine
Carpe Diem was next, originally by The Fugs, and this tune comes with a nice lesson about how you can;t outthink or outdrink the Angel of Death. Noted! You better make you love today. Noted! I love the way it juxtaposes airy choral sounding vocals with heavy angry, even scary yells in between. Underneath the whole tune is a light little beat carrying it along.
There was a whole bunch of silence at the end of the track, which had me bringing the volume up until four drumstick clicks let me know that the next tune Timothy Leary Lives was up, and soon it was blaring. Fast, aggressive without being terribly aggro, this was a good little upbeat punk rock jaunt. A good track to skate to, or to get you up n the morning. Or in the evening.
In Every Dream Home a Heartache starts out with bass and a wurly sounding keyboard, meandering without drums, then Jello Biafra comes in, talking about weird ass dystopian society that sounds a lot like right now. Really weird, really good, grindy, dark and slow. Jello seems to be having a lot of fun, and using a lot of his chops on this one without being way melodious. Strange and engaging.
Romance sounds a lot like the stuff on Freak Puke, maybe its the lower frequency guitar tone, and is that a standup bass again? Or a fretless? very good, very groovy and again midtempo. The audio quality sounds like tape, but in a warm fuzzy fat tone kind of way. Really dug it, especially the way the gain distorts a bit on the vocals in the chorus. This to me, seems to have a lot of work done to i, without being pushed to sound overproduced. Just a lot of sound going on. A lot of BIG sounds. What else would you ever expect from these guys? This is a cover of a Tales of Terror song, and I’ll be checking that one out later as well. Dug the structure.
Art School kicks off with a crazy oi oi oi chorus and screams that really let you know where this song is going. The vocal was way too big for the band, so I checked who it was, and it was Tom Hazelmyer, who is the founder of Amphetamine Reptile records. Dude has a bigass voice, and this tune reminds me of backyard skate punk shows back in the day. There are macho threats of violence and all kinds of brutality against art school students, which I thought was kind of weird and ironic, since now, punks seem to come out of art schools more than working class neighborhoods, but I digress! Maybe that was their point? Who knows, who cares, it’s a good fucking song. I love the part at the end, where the vocalist, wondering about probably the same thing I am, asks “A bit too rough trade, maybe?” Excellent.
Heathen Earth kicks off with some freaky electro effects, sounds like maybe from a guitar or synth. Then a little bass comes in, different effects play on different guitar sounds, bass sounds, and this goes on for about four minutes. Not really my cup of tea, I like a melody, and this sounded, to me, like what happens when you give me a bass, a guitar, and a bunch of effects. Fun, but I don’t know if I’d put it on a record, let alone cover somebody else’s version of it. I guess that’s my own problem with cover albums. I wonder too much about the motivation behind tunes that are chosen. Who am I to question their tastes anyway? This is their record.
Overall, It’s an enjoyable listen, and it sent me off to discover some more bands. Any opening of anybody’s ears is always welcome, particularly my own. I really dug the Bowie cover. I think after listening to the whole thing straight through, that’s probably my favorite.