A Musical Funhouse
The big idea behind The Melvins’ newest album and 24th LP, Basses Loaded, is that their entire roster of contributing bass players is featured on one or more of the album’s 13 songs, which includes Steve McDonald (Redd Kross, Off!), Jared Warren (Big Business), JD Pinkus (Butthole Surfers), Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk) and longtime Melvins drummer Dale Crover. They also got Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic to sit in for a track. What stands out, though, is not each of these various bass players’ contributions to the album, but The Melvins’ steadfast commitment to weirdness above all else. Novoselic’s track, for example, is driven by Cajun accordion and rockabilly guitar riffs, and sounds like a slapstick interpretation of Tom Waits. Relegating their most high-profile contributor to such a silly track feels kind of like a joke, but also like a grand statement of artistic purpose. It’s likely that The Melvins’ willingness to stay true to their weird selves is part of what earned them this rare appearance by Novoselic.
Track seven, “Shaving Cream” (feat. Dale Crover on bass) is itself two musical jokes in one. It begins as a cover of Benny Bell’s track of the same name in which he inserts a chorus all about the merits of shaving cream into rhyme schemes clearly set up for him to say the word “shit.” In the hands of The Melvins, all subtlety is lost as they forgo the original chorus and turn it into a song about literally stepping in shit. Midway through, the track transitions into a parody of electronic dance music driven by a chant of “I’m all fucked up.” The content is pretty obvious and not particularly funny, but it’s hard not to smile at their sheer audacity nonetheless.
It’s audacity that earned The Melvins their legendary status in the first place. The slow, ballsy guitar riffs they pioneered in their early days have influenced an entire generation of punk and metal bands, most notably including Nirvana. Rather than ride on their laurels, they’ve consistently released albums full of weird and idiosyncratic material. Experimenting with their lineup, as they have on this album, isn’t even a new idea for them—in recruiting stoner metal duo Big Business for their 2006 LP (A) Senile Animal, they recorded with four members, two of whom were drummers.
Basses Loaded is bizarre and genre-defying, but manages to sound cohesive from track to track thanks to characteristic low-end riffs and hypnotic vocals. Full-on genre experiments, like a manic upright bass solo at the end of eighth track “Planet Destructo” by Trevor Dunn that recalls his work with John Zorn, sound justified and surprisingly not jarring. Each diversion into a new genre or more jokey material feels like another attraction in the fun-house that is this album, with bandleaders Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover smirking behind its control booth and, like a fun-house, your head’s probably going to be spinning a little once it’s over.
The final track is a surprisingly straightforward rendition of American standard “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with Dale Crover on bass again that mostly just serves the purpose of riffing on the fact that the album’s title refers both to bass players and baseball. It’s an anticlimax, but how better to end an album singularly devoted to keeping rock music weird? Basses Loaded is pretty light on distortion and relegates the more metallic side of The Melvins to just a few tracks, however, this album will satisfy the oddball hankerings and freakish cravings fans of Ween, Primus and Butthole Surfers or just general connoisseurs of the bizarre.