Nude With Boots
Nineteen albums into an almost surreally creative “career,” the Melvins have only been consistent in one area, pushing themselves and their music further and making it stronger and stronger. The overall point, and I believe I’ve made it before, is that the Melvins nexus of Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover are positioning themselves amongst the more inspired musicians to come out of the late 20th century American underground. For that matter, how many other bands have sustained this sort of prolifically inspired output except for idols like Frank Zappa and Mark E Smith, and similarly demented peers like Michael Patton and Jad Fair? This discography is going to be legendary, fucking trust me.
The Melvins created grunge, they did the major label thing, they rode out the alternative music craze and countless other trends, and when the going got tough at the end of the millennium, they got even weirder. And better. Using only base elements of inspiration like Kiss, Germs, Black Sabbath and the Velvet Underground, the Melvins reshaped heavy music by sheer force of will into something overwhelmingly muscular like a fist to the face, without the testosterone a doctrinaire metal, but with an essential element of humor that’s as twisted as the faux-cutesy artwork on their albums. You can see their influence everywhere in music, urban vinyl toys, in twisted humor like the Mighty Boosh, in the riff worship of Sunn0))) and Boris. The moment is theirs.
At the point where you’d expect them to step back or bow out, grand old men of the scene content to ride out the rest of their career playing, say Bullhead or that Houdini in their entirety at various Coachella and Pitchfork events, instead they rush back with Nude With Boots, able to stand up there with some of their best work. New rhythm section Big Business (Jarred Warren and Coady Willis) — now absorbed into the band — makes them heavier and more fleet and nimble at the same time.
The stutterstep drum rolls and fills that dominate “Kicking Machine” take a joyous page from Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard,” even beating back a heavy guitar riff that sounds like a perpetually interrupted intro, and Buzz’s gorgeously obnoxious bellow sounds out mock heroically over the landscape before the song bursts into an adrenalized jam. The stereo drumming that kicks off “Billy Fish” makes me so goddamn happy and I love how Crover gets this sizzling noise out of his cymbals (listen to his solos, you’ll hear it), and Buzzo’s vocals sound downright valedictory, especially when it’s paired up with some shit-hot glam riffwork that’s sinister like Marc Bolan with brass knuckles.
“Dies Irarea” sees the Melvins trying their hand at a kind of post-apocalyptic (almost industrial) spaghetti western spookiness. “Smiling Cobra” is just a gloriously dumb explosion of epic doomboogie riffs and musclehead drumming. How they can revel in this sort of brute force trauma and not be a bunch of overly testosteroned mooks is a delicate balancing act that maybe this band (and only one or two others) have been able to pull off. Whereas the grinding crawls are all about simmering restraint, numbers like this are all about glorious release and bashing that makes the likes of Mudhoney look like wallflowers.
Duct tape a bunch of headbanging riffs together for a minute of metallized posturizing delivered with perfect comic timing and over the top vocals, call it “Stupid Creep.” I love shit like this where the album doesn’t have to be this sacrosanct epic tablet, it can be a sketchbook, a notepad, a place to try half-formed ideas and have fun. But then back to business with the efficient violence of “The Savage Hippy.” The vocals are gang sung in a venomous rasp like Bon Scott, the drums dodge madly around one another, Buzzo alternately tears off guitar strings and or throws out the kinda riff that has you making a googly face when you’re playing it on guitar. The number ends with the geetar sounding like a snake shedding its own skin while the drums keep that supremely unsteady gait.
The weirdness is back. But still keeping it simple, and still in thrall to the wondrously outsider rebel musics that made a young Crover and Buzzo pick up instruments in the first place. Boredom and nostalgia are clearly the enemies — forward motion is the only motion. You’ve gotta look up to someone these days.
Ipecac Records: www.ipecac.com