You can practically hear the clatter of empty beer cans.
For their latest album, Basses Loaded, the Melvins enlisted every bassist in their current stable, including Trevor Dunn from their Melvins Lite lineup, new member Steven McDonald, and guest Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. Even drummer Dale Crover plays bass on a few tracks, as he did in the band’s original 1983 lineup. But that’s just about the least interesting thing about this album. In fact, to listen with the intention of figuring out the nuances of each individual bassist’s contributions would reduce this wild romp of an album to little more than a pop quiz. This is one of those records where you can practically hear the clatter of empty beer cans falling to the floor.
Basses Loaded feels shorter than it is for a couple reasons. First off, a lot of these songs end with noodling or even a tossed-off song sketch. Secondly, the band gets the endless sludge-metal mires they’re known for out of the way quickly. “The Decay of Lying” is a brutal opener, six minutes of power-metallic lyrics over a molasses-slow riff; it most resembles “At the Stake,” the centerpiece of their classic Stoner Witch. The equally turgid “Beer Hippie” comes later, and then there’s “Planet Destructo,” which starts out sounding like those last two songs until Trevor Dunn comes in to do a jazz breakdown on his acoustic bass. These songs feel like Melvins by the numbers; they slow the album’s momentum, and they’re the least enjoyable things here.
The album really gets rolling in its second half, when it cuts out the sludgier songs. After a faithful take on the Beatles’ “I Want to Tell You,” the band covers Benny Bell’s “Shaving Cream” and the classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (likely a riff on the album’s baseball-themed title, but also a reminder that singer Buzz Osborne loves the sport; music fans who saw the 2010 World Series might have spotted his shock of hair in the stands). These are both delightful, and the songs the band surrounds them with are mostly goofs, like the Novoselic-featuring indie-folk “Maybe I Am Amused,” or pop-length hard rock songs like “War Pussy” or “Hideous Woman.”
Within the Melvins discography, Basses Loaded most resembles Tres Cabrones, the 2013 reunion of their 1983 lineup (in which Crover plays bass). The two albums have a lot in common: tossed-off covers, unusually poppy songs, more comprehensible lyrics than the band’s usual glossolalia. Tres Cabrones was also arguably the best album the Melvins have released in the past decade. The group’s late-‘00s albums attempted a return to their early-‘90s form after 10 years of experimentation, but they often came across as bloated. It’s good to see them let loose a little more here. They’re at their best when they sound like they’re having fun.
It’s also good to see the Melvins committing more fully to pop songwriting. Osborne can write a mean hook—even “The Decay of Lying” has a pretty catchy chorus—and though it’d be a stretch to call the Melvins a pop band, there’s a bubblegum gem or two on most of their albums. And what are “Hooch” and “Queen” but great power pop songs? These days, the Melvins are at their best when they are at their breeziest and most melodic, as on Basses Loaded. And god knows they’ve done enough six-minute sludge songs to last a lifetime. They should make more albums like this.