When the apocalypse comes and the globe is wiped clean, all that will be left behind will be cockroaches and Melvins. They’re a band that seem to continuously weather the whims of the music industry and personnel changes. Never really straying far from the path of righteousness that is in-laid with huge riffs, they’re still cranking out albums and new material at a phenomenal rate after all these years.
Of course just churning out material is not enough, there has to be some kind of quality control. Thankfully King Buzzo and Dale Crover seem to have a well refined filter, and very little inessential material makes its way onto their recorded work.
Whilst the band seems to have an infinite well of songs that they’ve tapped into and is apparently indestructible, they do have an Achilles heel when it comes to bass players. Over the years they’ve had quite a number join the ranks only to leave again. This album solves the bass problem by simply throwing six bass players into the mix. This kind of approach might be enough to knock most bands off course a little, but Basses Loaded is one of those Melvins albums that covers all the bases you’d expect from them and sees them maintaining their usual high level of consistency. The enormous riffs, the finely honed cover version, and the brief foray into the playful and ridiculous are all present and correct.
The current touring version of the band kicks things off, and Steve McDonald (of OFF! and Redd Kross) fits in just perfectly. The Decay Of Lying is one of those brooding, almost dreamlike Melvins tunes. It creeps along, just bubbling under until a huge guitar part comes in, and they pile a huge anthemic chorus on top. Hideous Woman’s perky, stabbing riff is irresistible but complex, McDonald sits in the pocket perfectly, playing off Crover and Buzz like an old hand. They might well have an endless supply of gigantic grungy riffs, but what they also have is a finely honed pop sensibility, and it’s on display here in spades. In case this were in any doubt it’s worth noting that their cover of The Beatles‘ I Want To Tell you is absolutely glorious and entirely faithful to the original. In the hands of any other band, such an approach might be dismissed as lazy, but Melvins have a way of inhabiting a song and owning it, without necessarily having to add a particular spin to it (see also their versions of Station To Station and Youth Of America).
Elsewhere, various incarnations of band reappear. There’s the Melvins Lite line up (with ex Mr. Bungle man, Trevor Dunn), the 1983 version with Dale Crover switching drums for bass whilst Mike Dillard sits in on the kit, and then there’s the Senile Animal version with Jared Warren. Warren’s sole contribution is Choco Plumbing, a song that takes Yo La Tengo’s Pass The Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind through a mincer and fizzes with real aggression. Trevor Dunn meanwhile takes the band into lounge territory before rattling into a walking-bass jazz workout. It’s Melvins 1983 that covers the most ground though. Beer Hippie grinds with sludgy intent, as does the ferocious Phyllis Dillard, but undercutting these contributions considerably are a pair of throw away “fun” songs in the shape of profane nursery skit Shaving Cream and the ZX Spectrum holding screen baseball tune Take Me Out To The Ball Game. It’s the same story with Maybe I’m Amused, Krist Novoselic’s contribution which is quirky and something of a throwaway tune. It feels like a missed opportunity, but it is just about catchy enough to hold its own. Thankfully Butthole Surfers’ JD Pinkus doesn’t let the side down, and he provides propulsive vigour to Captain Come Down, yet another track that grinds with menace and purpose.
Basses Loaded is something of a mixed bag. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t and some of it is just a little bit too silly for its own good. As usual though, the good far out-weighs the bad, and the Pinkus and McDonald and Warren contributions make it worth a look. The Melvins most certainly haven’t struck out this time around.