The Melvins - A Senile Animal (Ipecac CD)
What better time to to review the Melvins' new album, just as they land on the cover of this month's Wire? Wait wait wait...say what? The Melvins...on the Wire? I could see the Melvins on Terrorizer. Or the Melvins on Decibel. Or the Melvins on Rock-a-Rolla. But the Wire? Who knew? It's good to see them getting some big-time recognition at least, although you could argue they obtained such back in the early 90's when they were signed to Atlantic, but everybody knows that was just an example of the majors trying to make quick buck off grunge's back. But take a look at the other members of the so-called grunge wave and where they're at now. The Melvins' #1 fan in Kurt Cobain is dead. Layne Staley's dead. Andrew Wood is dead. Weiland and Cornell's careers are dead. Green River? Screaming Trees? Tad? L7? All done. And the Meat Puppets appear to be living only on borrowed time. It's almost incomprehensible that out of all those bands, the Melvins are the only ones still around and (most important of all) still relevant. And they still can't settle on a bassist, going through a Spinal Tap-ian amount before assimilating the bass and drums duo of Jared Warren and Coady Willis, collectively known as the sludge-rock outfit Big Business, for this release. The only two constants for the band throughout their tenure have been the eternally-identifiable Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover, drummer extraordinaire. And let's face it, Buzz and Dale look old enough to be the grandparents of the Big Business kids. But the Melvins made it work like they always do, and though the voice/guitar/bass/drums/drums unit may seem a bit unwieldly at first, it only adds to the Melvins' collective panache.
Despite never falling inactive, this is the first true new Melvins album since 2002's "Hostile Ambient Takeover", also released on Ipecac. They've spent their time in the meanwhile relasing best ofs (three, although I think they only had a hand in one of them), a retrospective book, a collaborative album with Lustmord, two with Jello Biafra, a live album, and various 7" singles, including a recent split with comedian Patton Oswalt. All told though, "A Senile Animal" doesn't exactly play through as an album album, per se. It's weird, but when I'm listening to it, I get a sense like it's a collection of above-average songs - a phantom greatest hits, if you will. The album follows a curious format too. Six songs average around the 2:30 mark, and the four are all close to or slightly above six minutes in length, and the album concludes with three of those four "epics" consecutively. I'm not really sure what to make of that, but I can tell you that all the tracks are just about as good as it gets from the Melvins in their non-fucking-around mode (and even then they're pretty good in that mode too). The opening "The Talking Horse" takes no prisoners as Crover and Willis lay down a blurring skin-slapping stomp while Buzzo and Willis double-up on vocals in almost choral fashion, admittedly off-putting at first but you get used to it before coming to enjoy it. "Blood Witch" joins anthemic verses with a stuttering guitar riff and sparse percussion trickery while "A History of Drunks" and "You've Never Been Right" are closer to punk rock in their approaches. Reminiscent of early Melvins (circa "Gluey Porch Treatments" and "Ozma") but obviously much more cleaner and intricate. "Rat Faced Granny" is a speedy whirlwind of double- and triple-time percussion and the cascading free jazz/metal conclusion segueing into the opening riff slides of prog/metal/punk web "The Hawk" is a real thing of beauty. On a couple of the longer tracks, the band harks back to the major label flirtations of "Houdini" and "Stoner Witch" (still two of the best Melvins records ever put to tape if you ask me). "Civilized Worm" lays out a sort of Westernish ambience such as on 1996's "Stag", and I hate to say it but "A History of Bad Men" is almost a direct re-working of the riff from Melvins-classic "Night Goat". I hate to say it because I think Osbourne would take offense upon hearing something like that, not because I think "Night Goat" is a bad song - quite the opposite in fact. "The Mechanical Bride" is a major two-step of vintage sludgy riffs and free-wheeling drumming and final cut "A Vast Filthy Prison" is practically a ballad - dig Osbourne singing (singing!) intelligible (intelligible!) lines like "the world is full of evil/now which of those are one of you" and "where is my one true angel/with the golden wings so open", without nary a touch of sarcasm in sight. As far as the Melvins go, it's downright soulful! Mellowing with old age? Well maybe but I know as soon as I say that, the band are going to put out "Colossus of Destiny Pt. II" and subvert everything everybody thought, once more.
Like I said before, as far as an album goes, "A Senile Animal" is good. As far as individual songs though, almost every one on here is a real jewel...but it just doesn't come off as a stone-cold Melvins classic like, well, every other Melvins album I've mentioned thus far - excluding "Colossus". I know, right? Some people just can't be satisfied. If you're already a Melvins devotee, there's a very good chance you'll like this one. If you're new to the party, start with the "Atlantic years" for Melvins at their pseudo-pop/punk/rock/metal prime, then check out their early days, then come around and visit "Senile". 'Cause, as they say, I can ford a red eed only street a wide a ree land.