The Melvins haven’t cut a proper album since The Bride Screamed Murder in 2010. Lately, they’ve been more interested in jamming with the Butthole Surfers, getting their 1983 lineup back together or calling up upright bassists. The results have mostly sounded like classic Melvins sludge, leaner than usual due to the absence of second drummer Coady Willis, who last appeared on Bride, but still conventional by the standards of this experimental band. Three Men and a Baby, a collaboration with godheadSilo bassist/vocalist Mike Kunka, fits firmly in this tradition.

Except it’s not exactly a new album; though some of it was cut last year, it was mostly recorded in 1999, when the Melvins were still doing outré shit like The Colossus of Destiny and Electroretard. It’s a surprise how completely Three Men and a Baby sounds like 2010s Melvins, and it makes sense that they would finish and release it now. But if you’re looking for a return to the band’s late-‘90s capriciousness – or even a significant shift in sound – this isn’t it.

Kunka’s contributions aren’t particularly audible; he mostly just makes his bass sound like a guitar, and as there’s two bassists on this thing, it’s hard to tell who’s Kunka and who’s then-Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis. Furthermore, all of the vocals on the album are relatively muddy and distant-sounding. All of the Melvins sing here, but you’d be hard-pressed to identify them; even frontman Buzz Osborne, who sounds like no other singer on Earth, sounds anonymous at times. This is the biggest difference between Three Men and other Melvins albums, but alas, it only serves to make these songs sound more anonymous.

Aside from this, Three Men is firmly rooted in the band’s signature sludge-metal style. The album doesn’t expand on this sound, nor does it refine it. It just… kind of sounds like a Melvins album. The band’s made at least three other albums in this style, all of them much better, and while there’s definitely an appealing sense of guys-in-the-room camaraderie here, there’s none of the willful sense of abandon that made their 1983-lineup reunion, 2013’s Tres Cabrones, such a blast. Here, they seem to be sticking to a template.

Luckily, they indulge a little towards the end of the album, which contains its most satisfying, fun, and experimental music. “Dead Canaries” is a foray into jagged post-punk with squawking guitar that recalls Osborne’s fretwork on the Melvins’ 2006 return to form A Senile Animal. “A Dead Pile of Worthless Junk” is an intriguing bass-driven abstraction. The album’s most entertaining song, “A Friend in Need is a Friend You Don’t Need,” is basically just Osborne shouting nonsense to canned applause. They end the whole thing with an “L.A. Blues”-type noise coda, appropriately titled “Art School Fight Song.”

There’s a lot more that could have been explored through this collaboration. Two bassists is an outlandish and relatively unexplored premise, and it would have been great if Kunka and Rutmanis had worked in harmony to create sounds that one-bass bands would be scared or unable to create. Instead, Three Men and a Baby is just another Melvins album with double the bass and half the fun.

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