Music history has always interested Your Grouchy Friend immensely. Tracking back through the musical family tree to discover the influences, interests and friendships that produced the music we love (and honestly appraise that which we don’t) is a great way to discover old gems that will present as new to the discoverer and enrich both our listening palette and our lexicon of music as a language. The Melvins are an interesting phenomenon that are undoubtedly seminal – notably influencing Grunge and Sludge Metal through their massive body of work dating back to their inception in 1983, directly influencing their peers through lead man Buzz Osborne’s work in other acts, and of course connecting Cobain and Novoselic to Grohl through their acquaintance in the Seattle scene. The latter serendipity spawning a band that would ostensibly change the face of music, the former driving sections of Metal that have attracted an “artier” element to the heavy world, and the middle bringing us Mike Patton vehicles like Fantomas and myriad Buzz guest spots with alternative Rock and Metal luminaries (such as Napalm Death’s Shane Embury). “Working with God” could serve as the entrance to a wondrous rabbit hole for younger listeners and those not already au fait with The Melvins, or it can stand alone as a rumbustious and fun release. The band continue to create music that is honest and unapologetic and whilst it will not be for everyone, there is no doubt as to their pedigree, lust for creativity and the legitimacy of their heavy gigging schedule purported to have hit 100 shows per year for the best part of three decades.
“Working with God” sees the band retaining the 2013 line-up of founder and omnipresent force King Buzzo (Osborne) on guitar and vocal, second drummer turned bassist Dale Crover, and original 1983 drummer Mike Dillard. Is it good? Well it is a blast, emanating a visceral sense of the passion and straight up fun one suspects these guys had writing and recording the album, but there is a fine line between jocularity and a throwaway joke, between immediacy and a lack of substance, and at times these lines may be crossed depending on your own subjective feelings thereof.
Beach Boys parody “I Fuck Around” kicks off proceedings and may serve as a bit of a gatekeeper, turning off the unaware listener with the first of several tastes of the one-two jocularity/immediacy punch that may not be everyone’s cup of tea whilst a good giggle and well executed. The same can be said of the closer “Good Night Sweetheart,” (doo wop classic first recorded by The Spaniels) less on the jocular side of things but still feeling borderline throwaway despite its well executed appropriateness. To double back though, one can never experience a band like The Melvins without taking this kind of stuff as part of the dose – hang on for the ride past the initial taste because it doesn’t take long to feel the full force of their trade mark riffing and Sludgy melodic sensibilities.
That force hits in the form of the opening riff of “Negative No No.” So many of The Wanderlust’s readers (and indeed writers) have an ear for Doom and Sludge, and The Melvins have their credentials on full display here. The song grinds along with rhythmic unity and a beautifully organic sound that is a feature of the entire record. On the surface this is a simple arrangement but the melody and texture it supports offer up a compelling and classy feel that it is difficult not to embrace for the full listen (if it is broken up by some of the previously alluded to schoolyard humour).
“Bouncing Rick” and “Boy Mike” are great examples of The Melvins at their best: structures built around urgent, driving riffs that feel free and unchained in sonic structure and serve as both entrée and satisfying resolution within their arrangements. Such sound and structure call to mind so many from greats like Black Sabbath, to even White Zombie in a certain strange sense, and beyond, where pure and simple rhythm and melody are placed above all other considerations. These two tracks are favourites off the album and deserve a spot in your 2021 rotation – they just FEEL good… very good. Absolutely crank “Boy Mike” and strap yourself in for a physical beating you will be certain to love.
“Caddy Daddy” is a delightful sludge fest and another killer track… perhaps more of a slow burning creeper than other more immediate fare, which only lends weight to its considered arrangement and careful pacing. The lead guitar sounds are a standout on this track, used sparingly and to great effect, as are the full-stops-with-vocal-hook that draw the ear to the brilliant production – brilliant in the sense that the elements feel tangible and in no way “vanilla sausage” to quote a preferred term of production derision from a social media group.
There are other strong spots on the album although they do suffer from a throwaway feeling that just could not be shaken. Great riffs that perhaps needed more substance around them or are perhaps tainted/enhanced by the band’s humorous bent depending on one’s perspective – “Hot Fish” was a tough one in that sense, a droning riff with little movement that doesn’t feel like it will stick with the listener. It must be said that there is some kind of comedic genius in the line “Hot fish in general” that had Your Grouchy Friend… well, less grouchy with every listen and subsequent giggle.
In summation this is an album worthy of a spin at least… and at serious volume to get the full feel of the physical production style. It’s modern-vintage in style and presentation, it’s littered with some cracking riffs and vocal melody, and occasionally it is brilliant. All that said, the hit and miss full listening experience and the juvenile comedic leanings detract at times from the best it has to offer and felt frustrating. The Melvins have been nothing if not honest, unyielding and authentic throughout their career, and on “Working with God” they continue these traits both to the detriment and effectuation of the album. Jump in and enjoy the ride – you’ll not be wanting for sheer entertainment.
“Working with God” is released on February the 26th through Ipecac Recordings / Liberator Music, along with vinyl re-releases of “Hostile Ambient Takeover” and “Gluey Porch Treatments.”