I never really understood all the critical adoration The Melvins seem to get in musical retrospectives. Sure, Kurt Cobain liked them a lot, being one of the older bands in the Seattle scene and also being from Aberdeen, and they endured being a historical footnote of alternative rock by also being influential to the nascent doom metal revival of the 90s. But once I started investigating the history of the music I was into and actually listened to The Melvins, it was a little disappointing. I was expecting an experience a bit like the first time I listened to The Velvet Underground – the acquaintance with underrated geniuses overlooked by all but the people who mattered, the people who went on to make some of the best music of the last few decades under the inspiration of these demigods. But The Melvins shattered those expectations. They were clunky, goofy, and sounded like everyone involved, from Buzz Osborne to the sound engineer to the studio intern who bought the coffee, was more stoned than anyone had ever been in their life. But perhaps this is where their charm lies. They don’t mess around with any kind of pretensious self-seriousness. They can barely be classified as alternative rock, if they are at all, as they ape riffs from 70s rock ala Deep Purple and the like without any sense of irony, and concern themselves lyrically with such topics as, unsurprisingly “being stoned since I was 7,” but they also are entirely self-aware, casting them closer to the likes of Ween than Tenacious D (although the line between the purpose of these is often maddeningly blurred). It’s best to take the music of The Melvins for what it is, rather than assign any kind of meaning to it, and sit back as King Buzzo and co. churn out whatever they happen to feel like committing to tape as it crosses their troublingly hazed minds.
Tres Cabrones begins with the sludge metal stomp “Dr. Mule,” which carries with it all the menace of a special guest appearance of Gwar on The Jerry Springer Show. It’s unsettling, sleazy, but if you can resist the bile that rises up in your threat upon first exposure it can yield certain charms. This gives way to the appropriately titled “City Dump,” which is a pretty close aural equivalent to a visit to such a place. These dark, churning tracks or intermittently interrupted with novelties like the hillbilly singalong “Tie My Pecker To A Tree,” a juvenile take on “You’re In The Army Now” that would probably make the Butthole Surfers jealous, and a rendition of “99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall,” which starts of faithfully enough before it turns into a genuinely frightening psychedelic meltdown hinging on the demented repetition of “beer!” The band flirts with straightforward punk rock on “Walter’s Lips,” which proves them to be somewhat able at writing coherent songs rather than sludge drones that make you want to take a shower after listening. Closer “Stick ‘em Up Bitch” combines the “best” elements of the preceding tracks and paints a concise picture of The Melvins as an entity – that is, one that defies explanation as to how they held together after making a single album, let alone 22.
The Melvins haven’t changed after 30 years together, and they’re likely not going to, with Tres Cabrones sounding essentially similar to everything else they’ve ever done. And while the reintroduction of founding member Mike Dillard lends to an air of back-to-basics fundamentalism, in truth, they’re the same grimy creature they’ve ever been – probably the one band that’s ever truly been deserving of the grunge label – and there’s a strange, disturbing comfort in that.
Recommended Tracks: City Dump, Walter’s Lips, Stick ‘em Up Bitch