Art, immobile and often intangible as it may seem, has the ability to travel. Distinct from other objects, however, is that it moves like one who is enslaved rather than one who is free, being taken at the whim of men and women with that reckless borderline personality compulsion unique to the creative class. Of all the artists currently creating today, The Melvins have proven time and again to be art’s most intrepid and restless slavers. Though their foundations and formulae are very simple they’ve managed to drag it great distances, setting tracks far beyond those left by their peers, let alone the scores of bands who’ve never heard of them. It was only a matter of time, then, that they’d come to a point at which they could go no further — at least not at great risk.
Freak Puke is the culmination of a truly maddening journey, one that could not be continued without sacrificing considerable dignity and good sense. Now one could argue that The Melvins possess a meager supply of both, but I’m long out of college and no longer have time for that kind of horseshit. The Melvins are men like anyone else, and while they have an almost superhuman tolerance for dissonance, volume and all manner of general nonsense, for even them there is a time in which losses must be cut and white flags raised. What I’m trying to say is that Freak Puke isn’t that great and slightly altering their name kind of makes it worse.
This is not to say that on its own Freak Puke is a bad album. By anyone’s standards it’s pockmarked with moments that are at best atmospherically pungent and at worst competently workmanlike. From the slow-burning opener “Mr. Rip Off” to the Stoner Witch-era power rock of “Baby, Won’t You Weird Me Out” to the sprinkling around of orchestral instrumentation to Buzz’s more-haunting-than-usual vocals, there’s much to go around that isn’t unpleasant to anyone already fairly acclimated with Melvinsism. Perhaps most fascinating is the title track which, while founded on Melvins-style arena rock, is driven by a mischievous melody that plays like a perversion of any non-single Foo Fighters song. Its twin in weirdness is the ten minute closing track, the first seven of which makes up a low-key and very jaunty jam of sorts before shifting into more ominous drones and voice samples.
In comparison to other Melvins outputs, on the other hand, it is less interesting. No one at this point either expects or demands anything monumental, that even approaches the heights their `90s efforts, but the unhinged ferocity of (A) Senile Animal for instance was refreshing and showed that a great deal of adventure remained. With Freak Puke the adventure seems nearly over. The alteration of their name seems to signal that all the more, signifying the first time since in two general election cycles that they’ve played without Big Business’s Jared Warren and Coady Willis. One wonders why they had to change their name after reverting back to a three-piece. It does seem rather conservative after having an extra drummer for so many years, but it doesn’t make it any less distracting. The Melvins, like the Presidency, is an American institution. Its longevity and solidity within its culture makes it subject to changes over time, some of which bear little resemblance to its foundations, and hence it can polarize and stir its people while the brand itself remains largely unchanged. One could argue that such a tweak is a less predictable flight of the bizarre in some way, though frankly in the greater context it’s more like a registered sex offender getting a nose ring.