An amazing thing has happened with this album; it seems a lot like the Melvin's last album ("Senile Animal"). Consistency has never been a major concern for the band, but maybe they just decided not to release everything they'd come up with lately in an omnibus edition. In any case, here we are, treated with another Melvins album long after Grunge is dead, and most of the Indie bands that came after the Melvins originally helped to chart Indie in the first place (without ever making heaps of money at it) are also dead or have become self-parodies. And while all of the reviews here so far are enthusiastic, as often happens with Melvins reviews, there tends not to be a lot of detail. Here's some detail.
The Kicking Machine, at 2'44", gets things started. Yes, that opening guitar line is almost pop, but don't ignore that the song started with a gunked out drum noise and chime. If the Melvins have learned nothing else from many years of knowing Mike Patton, it's how to never miss a chance to put some odd bits together. Harmonized vocals ("little horned animals"), and up-tempo drums crisscross through the guitar lick for a bit before the "real" riff starts off; one of those marvelously non-4/4 seeming things kicking along with its unpredictable but oh-so-right changes. Boom-boom-boom, and it's over.
"Billy Fish," at 3'52", starts with a bunch of rolling drums that go on long enough to give you ample time to imagine 5 or 6 different riffs to come--but as usual the one that arrives hearkens more back to the Melvins' Houdini than anything you might have imagined. But even this proves to be a dodge; when the vocals finally set in, with Buzz's still excellent-sounding voice, the sound is grungy, buzzy, and kicking along at a grinning hyena-lope. Certainly, the endless quest for a bassist has finally been answered. Verse-chorus, and suddenly everything stops to go back to the opening drums; they weren't an introduction after all. A repeat of the buzz-grunge follows, but morphs into something completely new for the last minute of the song, though the new bit seems to follow inevitably from the front part. How do they make it all make sense?
"Dog Island," at 7'32", time-wise suggests a sludgy epic, and the opening *boom* and fuzzy down-tuned guitars and occasional tweaked high notes that escape the speakers seems to bear this out. (Check out the yummy tube-amp/Les Paul sounding notes oozing around.) Truthfully, the lick itself is probably worth the album--one of those chugging things with accents in all kinds of throat-grabbing places that only the Melvins seem to know how to do consistently. And if it just kept this up for 7 minutes, it'd be awesome enough, but at 3'20" suddenly the base drops an octave, the guitars start wailing (and you recognize where you sense this riff from, "The Maggot"), as it scoots into something else. Suddenly the bass drops again, and the vocals come in with all kinds of reverb, the sound-guy slides up the volume slider--epic begins to occur. At around 5'45", the band try to find their way out of the mood they've created, more or less, ending on the predictable cliche of drums, but the journey was still worth it.
"Dies Iraea," at 4'33" (funky spelling notwithstanding) is actually a cover of a Catholic medieval chant, the famous "Day of Wrath." (You'll know the melody, famously deployed at the beginning of Kubrick's "The Shining".) I'd guess Mike Patton suggested they cover this, but it's done with all the slow oozing power that the piece deserves, including a trailing off noisescape that manages to invoke "The Shining". (For all I know, maybe they're covering that movie's soundtrack.) At the very least, it's a stark contrast to the music that's gone before.
"Suicide in Progress," at 4'46", (if it's stoner rock at all) is mightily accelerated, but aficionados, please note (what would be) the extraordinarily complex guitar line for a stoner-rock outfit. For the first 90 seconds of the song, you might think it was a prog-rock instrumental, changing time signatures and all. Comes the full-stop, and then possibly a restatement of the song at 1/4 speed now, and a texture like many songs on "The Bootlicker". (Lyrics: "There's a little animal" ... a return from the first song? To be fair, Buzz's lyrics may make sense to him somehow, but one of the enduring joys of the Melvins is the total incongruity of the words; it's amazing Buzz can remember them.) Fade-out ... and suddenly, a brief quasi-industrial noisefest ... because that's how a proper Melvins song is put together.
"The Smiling Cobra," at 3'42", drives immediately through your forehead with another jumping, shifting guitar line intermixed with a few power chords to try to get a grip on, but generally it smashes around, off-beat accents and all, straight-ahead growling vocals ... all in the first 90 seconds. So of course you need a guitar solo then, and then morph away into a completely new riff. (It's the sound of the guitars, in particular that's so satisfying here.) You could mistake this for "typical" stoner rock, but not with headphones on.
"Nude with Boots," at 3'35", starts out more thumping drums, and then an exceptionally poppy/friendly guitar line. (Check out the bass guitar, though). And stays there ... surprise. I'd swear this was a cover, or not written by Buzz/Dale. What follows, "Flush," at 1'07", is a noisescape. Now, this is a review, not an analysis, but since (for me) "Nude with Boots" is the least satisfying song on the album for me, I find it charming that the next song flushes it, as it were. If nothing else, the swing from "pop" to "noise" couldn't be more apt as a contrast. (In an unforgivably interpretive mode, I have this dim suspicion "Nude with Boots" and "Flush" are references, maybe in title alone, to Sabbath's "Fairies Wear Boots" and "Fluff".)
"The Stupid Creep," at 1'30", gets a lot done in its 90 seconds, but is mostly a palatte-cleanser of aggressive guitars and slithering bass lines that ends before it seems to start. Guerilla punk-sludge.
"The Savage Hippy," at 3'34" (contrasting with the stupid creep somehow?) is a mini-epic--huge drums boom incessantly, while down-tuned bass creeps around at unusually low subsonics--cymbals fill the sound with white noise, lyrics (sneer-howled) are buried in the miasma, while the guitar churns out power chords and string-scratches. A huge fish-flopping death-wail, and another reason why one needs to buy Melvin albums. The "chorus" (if you can find it) pays for the disc.
"It Tastes Better than the Truth," at 5'20, closes the album with martial drum, distorted mincing vocals, rising and falling skysaw guitars, and miscellaneous screams over the top. In the sense that this stew repeats to the end, it's a drone, and belligerently anti and satisfying; certainly a toothy-grinned way to end an album, but still nice enough to be programmed out when its charms wear thin.
Bottom line. If you liked "Senile Animal," you'll almost certainly like this. If nothing else, over the years, the Melvins have gotten better at making themselves sound awesome on disc--"Ozma" and "Bullhead" sound almost like novelties. Major-label recording maybe taught them the tricks; Ipecac has (continued) to give them all the leeway they need. Results: another worthy step forward in the Melvins canon. (And for any who wonder why they keep at it--watch Buzz playing "Dog Island" and you'll see; the fire is still there. And it here too.)