Thursday, December 24, 2009

Art That Changed My Life: Melvins

Nirvana, right? Soundgarden? Mudhoney? Mother Love Bone (who the fuck remembers Mother Love Bone)? Green River? Temple of the Dog?

Fuck ‘em all.


There may be no better rock band working today, which, unlike all the above mentioned acts (except the sadly reunited Mudhoney) survived the grunge fad and remained active, not to mention relevant. Take the early Melvins records, like Bullhead, and compare them to Pigs of the Roman Empire and look for the similarities. While the initial thought might be that this sounds like a completely different band, the common traits are evident: Dale Crover’s (the greatest drummer in rock history, period) pounding beats, Buzzo’s growl and de-tuned Les Paul, long, punishing riffs, the total annihilation of any expectations. If you are a Melvins fan—a real fan—you’ll know to expect something different each time. The basic DNA is the same, but the results are often surprising. Chalk it up to the rotating bass player slot (6 and counting) or the constant shuffle from label to label (though Ipecac looks like home) if you must. Personally, I think it all has to do with Buzzo’s fluxing muse. Anyone this gifted is not going to be satisfied churning out the same old product, much to the chagrin of lunkhead fans looking for a constant repackaging of Ozma.

So they mix it up, big deal. What else about them is so goddamn special? Who can say? Throughout this series I have tried to pinpoint what it is about a work (or body of work) that has allegedly changed my life. While the Melvins are without a doubt one of the most important bands ever (right up there with the Beatles or the Who or the Stooges), that doesn’t make them life changers in the sense that most might think when confronted with such a term. But to me, they were life changing. Unlike Public Enemy or Mr. Bungle, I was not struck immediately by their work. No, records like Houdini and Stag took a few listens to truly sink in. I was unable to process what the hell they were up to, especially with Stag. Maybe their most eclectic and challenging record, Stag remains my favorite. Much of what the Melvins are capable of is evident in that one CD. If you need a “best of” jump off, then Stag is for you. “The Bit” brings the slow, heavy riffs and bone breaking drums; “Black Bock” is mellow, catchy and yet very evil; “Skin Horse” is a three part odyssey of anthem rock, trance and the most beautiful baby-voiced absurdity you’ll ever hear. When I finally warmed up to the Melvins it was very clear that there was no going back. The germ was too deep. Everything else now sounds tame.