Formed in Washington in 1983, the storied and utterly unkillable Melvins are one of the true survivors of the “grunge explosion”, beating it to the punch by nearly a decade and outlasting it by several more. While their major label success was limited to three albums for Atlantic Records, the group have effortlessly weathered any and all changes in music as an art and an industry. Finding a home on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label (with excursions for labels like Sub Pop, Third Man, Amphetamine Reptile and Alternative Tentacles), they continue to do what they do, playing loud and often. Collaborations with Jello Biafra, Kurt Cobain (albeit strained), Fantomas and others have done nothing to dilute their output, only solidifying their reputation as one of the most uncompromising and unshakeable names in Rock.
All said, it probably goes without saying that a new Melvins release is always good news, and while Basses Loaded isn’t so much a new long player as it is a collection of really fun stuff (nine of the twelve songs appear elsewhere on limited edition releases), there’s a lot here to enjoy. The idea is interesting too, with the loose theme being that Melvins are both showcasing a number of former bassists across the release and calling on a handful of notable guests to contribute too. There’s probably a joke in there too about the Melvins having something of a bassist problem. Of the fifteen musicians who’ve accompanied Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover (occasional bassists themselves) under the Melvins name, fourteen have been bassists.
Like the album’s lineup, the material here is pretty varied. ‘The Decay of Living’ (with Red Kross’ Steve McDonald) and ‘Captain Come Down’ (with Jeff Pinkus of The Butthole Surfers) are just a couple of moments that offer the group’s brutal classic sound, a beautiful cacophony of big sludgy riffs and bellowing aggression. But they go off-road early with their rework of George Harrison’s ‘I Want to Tell You’, coming off like an enjoyably sedated Creedence Clearwater Revival, having fun with their cheap amps.
On the jazzy and improvised sounding ‘Planet Destructo’, Melvins Lite see a brief revival with Mr Bungle’s Trevor Dunn returning to the fold after 2012’s excellent (and very well travelled) Freak Puke collaboration.
The “Melvins-1983” lineup sees Crover switch to bass, offering some of the best and also the most puzzling material here, ‘Beer Hippie’ is a perfect slice of glowering Rock, while ‘Phyllis Dillard’ is fantastically furious. Elsewhere, there’s a less essential but totally endearing 8-bit love letter to baseball with ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’. Their reworking of ‘Shaving Cream’ is about as irritating as the 1946 original, but to celebrate the Melvins, you have to take the riffs with the ridiculous.
The most hyped guest appearance here is Krist Novoselic, playing bass and accordion on ‘Maybe I Am Amused’. This one is an absolute joy. The music industry hasn’t been especially open to Krist since Nirvana and his musical output has been pretty scant since his departure from Flipper in 2008. But this just sounds like Krist playing with some friends and having fun. It’s a giddy and cathartic three minutes that doesn’t sound a whole lot like Nirvana or the Melvins, if anything it has hints of Meat Puppets - a slice of cowpunk well worth hearing. If Krist has one more full length album or tour left in him, the Melvins would be a hell of a home for him.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for an introductory Melvins album, there’s some others you could try first, but if you just want to see what King Buzzo and company are up to in 2016, this is a ton of a fun and you can bet the tour will be killer too.