The Melvins’ Basses Loaded: A Superficial Gimmick Wears Thin Fast
Buzz. Dale. And every-fucking-body else.
The downer-punk grunge originators have a long history of atrocious attrition rates, and no position has been juggled quite so frequently as the bassist’s slot. Even now, with the ever-lengthening tenure of Big Business’s Jared Warren on those grumbling low strings, Melvins still have a half-dozen others on speed dial, seemingly so their erratic, eccentric, but nevertheless unceasing gush of recorded output will never experience a service interruption.
On the aptly (hastily?) titled Basses Loaded, Osborne and Crover call in the scabs for a showcase of all their current low-end collaborators through a dozen predictably unpredictable, off-kilter rock songs. In fact, Warren’s only appearance this time out occurs on the album’s second track, “Choco Plumbing.” The song’s hard rocking hookiness won’t have much to say to fans of extreme metal, but it’s fun as all get-out, and if you don’t come to a Melvins record for this kind of ride, then you probably haven’t ever heard them play before.
Crover himself is credited with throttling the long-necked instrument for several songs, including the Stones-45-played-at-33 crawl “Beer Hippie,” the low-slung groove of “Phyllis Dillard,” and the maddening kiddie-organ numbers “Shaving Cream” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” High art, this is not. Nirvana/Flipper bassist Krist Novoselic arrives on the scene for the accordion clap-along “Maybe I Am Amused” near the end of the album. OFF!’s Steve McDonald darkens the stoned shuffle of opener “The Decay of Lying,” just as he drives the menacing chug of “Hideous Woman” and “War Pussy” and the whimsical swing of Beatles cover “I Want to Tell You.” JD Pinkus of Butthole Surfers throws down reliable support beneath the rugged atmospheres of “Captain Come Down.”
It was inevitable, perhaps, that I would find the most pleasure in Trevor Dunn’s subtle upright performance on “Planet Destructo.” Not only does the bass work on this track stand out as worthy of the listener’s full attention (even when everybody else tries to drown it in clanging electric guitar and crashing percussion), but it is more often mixed front and center. Dunn’s work here feels both athletic and tasteful, mesmerizing without becoming overly showy. Of course, I’m already a fan of just about all of Dunn’s other projects (Trio Convulsant and John Zorn appearances absolutely included), so there’s a deep bias embedded in the above praise, and your own preferences certainly may not run the same direction.
So far, I’ve… uh, loaded this review with raw facts and a few adjectives to spice things up. But how good is the album? Shit, I don’t know. It’s a Melvins record. The focus on bass is mostly superficial gimmick, and it wears thin so quickly that it’s hardly a selling point. Melvins’ charm has always hinged on the fact that their music calls back so strongly to an earlier era, when genre was never so important as attitude and catchy melodies were far from verboten, but even so, the band could retain a throughline of relevance no matter what year it happens to be. This strength remains undiluted on Basses Loaded, but how often are you really going to listen to it? On the other hand, who else are you going to hear making music like this?
Buzz. Dale. And no-fucking-body else.