No matter what’s going on in the world, the Melvins can always be relied upon to come up with the goods regardless of which incarnation of the band happens to be operating at the time. In the past there’s been a sludge version, a full on punk version, a drone and feedback nightmare Melvins, a “Classic Rock” sound, and any number of other variations.
Hold It In finds the band in fairly playful mood and with a line-up that is positively mouthwatering. Alongside stalwarts Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover are Butthole Surfers members Jeff Pinkus (bass) and Paul Leary (guitar). The result is one of the band’s most rewarding and varied albums to date. They lend the Melvins a slightly poppier sound in places and, although Leary’s swirls of psyche-guitar lunacy make an occasional appearance, this is most definitely a Melvins album and not some kind of bizarre hybrid. This is all the more surprising given Buzz’s admission that this is the first time in Melvins’ 30 album history where he hasn’t written the majority of the material. Leary and Pinkus are, it would seem, natural Melvins.
It’s the full on grunge Melvins that kicks the album off. The thundering lope of Bride Of Crankenstein is a stark reminder that they can be utterly brutal and still manage to possess huge choruses. The peculiar vocoder pop-rock of You Can Make Me Wait follows, and marks Paul Leary’s first contribution to the album. It’s basically straight up ’80s radio rock with an edge. In another band’s hands hand it might seem ludicrous, but The Melvins make it work, due in part to their ability to adopt musical styles with non-ironic aplomb (their recent covers album Everybody Loves Sausages offers several examples of this). In a similar vein is the big dumb glam-rock stomp of Eyes On You, a song that on the face of it is nothing more than a throwaway earworm, but on closer inspection is an amusing and intelligent take on government surveillance and the NSA. Brass Cupcake provides yet more evidence of The Melvins’ penchant for ’70s American rock by marrying great big hooks to inspired off-the-wall vocal shrieking. It’s the sound of a band that’s clearly having a blast.
There are moments when Leary’s presence brings the Buttholes feel to things. Onions Make The Milk Taste Bad for example sets of with ramped up Melvins riffing, but around the mid-point it drifts off into unfocussed, but utterly compelling sections of psychedelia. Only once does the album fully indulge in such ambient and peculiar sounds, Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit’s clicks, wobbles and electronic noises are intriguing, but little more than a soft focus distraction.
If all that sounds a little intense, then there’s always the laid back ’50s rock hop of I Get Along, a song that’s augmented with the occasional classic sci-fi blaster sound, because, that’s exactly what you’d expect from a ’50s rockabilly tune. If that weren’t enough, the quite brilliantly named Piss Pisstoferson swaggers with a classic rock sensibility and throws down some damn fine vocal harmonies too.
For those who fear that there’s not quite enough straight up Melvins on display, it should be noted that every one of these songs is blessed with that special something that the band impress on their songs. There are of course moments when they lay it down plain and simple too. House Of Guillotine for example is a disturbing and engrossing morass of low slung riffs and sound effects (and is possibly the finest song here), and although The Bunk Up is apparently introduced by a Clanger, it soon settles into a dizzying and dynamic riff/drum trade off. Sesame Street Meat is another example of the band just laying down pulverising riffs and doing what comes naturally, and yet it is far from autopilot Melvins. If anything, they sound energised and totally focused. It is heartening to find a band still on form after all these years and still seeking to push the boundaries and themselves. Long may it continue.