More Melvins. That’s the simplest way to accurately describe Basses Loaded. In fact, those two words contain all you could ever possibly need to know. Tossing the gimmick of multiple bassists and the lineup changes fitting that revolving door requires, this is ultimately just more of what the Melvins already do. This makes writing about this album in an illustrative and substantive way remarkably difficult. Two words obviously isn’t enough, and even to those who know what it means, it feels disrespectful to leave it at that. Because the Melvins are consistently a very interesting rock band, a band that gets it, that ineffable, intangible spiritual/aesthetic/sonic component that makes rock, all rock, from rock ‘n roll to glam to psych to metal to prog to punk and so forth.
The closest point of comparison lies on the other side of the planet with a band named after a Melvins song, Boris: Both are consummate rock bands, well-versed in an encyclopedia of styles, and able to shift between spaces under the deceptively large umbrella of “rock music” with an ease that is at times actually straight up confusing. But the issue, as always, lies with the listener or the critic being too slow on the uptake or too keen with expectations and not with the band for being as adventurous and, well, capable as they.
This is where things get tricky. For Boris, the stylistic detours are typically album length and often feature older songs reworked in the new idiom to test the limits of where that sound can go. Melvins typically eschew this, however, containing their kaleidoscopic vision of what rock is and what it can do under one envelope. Melvins’ more recent detours to focused records and clearly delineated gimmicks, like Melvins Lite or Melvins 1983, have been the exception and not the rule. Basses Loaded finds them returning to this older, messier mode, wielding a gimmick not to contain their sound by a rule but to allow it an excuse to effloresce.
Like any Melvins record, we get a mixture of psychedelia, of heavy blues, of metal, doom, punk rock, noise, classic rock. Their slapstick weirdo comedy, clearly an influence on Mike Patton, shines through here, cropping up to shake themselves out of any potential self-seriousness they may find themselves in. The beautiful thing about Melvins is, here as well as anywhere else in their discography really, that they are funny but never ironic, serious about their songcraft and playing but not self-serious and joyless. This is the band, after all, that released a series of “solo” records styled after the same multiple solo-record gimmick KISS used and did it in all seriousness because, soundbites from Simmons and Stanley aside, KISS kicks fucking ass. It’s refreshing to see that the Melvins, no matter how old they are, are sincere fans of kickass rock music all across the spectrum and take seriously enough the writing of songs and playing and recording of their music to convey that fact.
What’s mystifying about this record is that the question of who’s on bass doesn’t seem to predicate what kind of song the band makes. In truth, four of the twelve songs are held down by Steve McDonald, a newcomer to the band, four by longtime drummer and vocalist Dale Crover, and the other four are each one-offs, which undercuts the idea that this would be an equal-footed record on the part of all bassists a bit. But even still, none of the four songs helmed by McDonald have a great deal connecting them especially to each other as opposed to any of the other songs on the album. The same can be said of the Dale Crover-helmed tracks. This circumscribes the fact that the Melvins is the baby of King Buzzo and Dale Crover, who together wield deceptively deep chops and a startlingly large range of influences and interests, so much so that adding other components or players just becomes flickers of inspirations for Buzzo and Dale to do their thing.
Basses Loaded‘s press release called the six bassists idea a “kick right in [the album’s] big fat ass,” to which I’m inclined to agree. It is, after all, more Melvins, and if that’s what it took to get it out of their systems and into our ears this time, then that’s what it took. In a perfect world, this would be the median rock record. Because while ultimately this record is just par for the course for the Melvins, this is going to wind up being noticeably better than a lot of other rock records released this year.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.