As we all know, few if any bands have managed to make a drastic personnel change correlate to an appreciable increase in musical quality. Sure, several acts have managed to sell more records after augmenting their lineup — Van Hagar for instance — but none have been able to convince critics or fans that they have not, in fact, performed subtraction by addition. Enter the Melvins, a band whose cultural cache is due almost entirely to its ability to defy expectations. Or perhaps it should be called the Melvins v2.0, since the band’s two longtime members (guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover) are joined here by Hydra Head’s resident bass/drum two-piece Big Business (bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis). Warren and Willis flesh out the Melvins’ already formidable rhythm section, but don’t be fooled: They aren’t hired guns. Their influence is palpable throughout (A) Senile Animal.
Like a python unhinging its jaw to swallow a feral dog, Osborne and Crover have made plenty of room for Willis and Warren. Most conspicuously, the longtime members duet for much of the album. Captain and Tennille they aren’t, although Warren’s cavernous shout lends a newfound depth to Osborne’s signature roar. Wisely the band members — who produced the album — decided not to pan each vocal hard left and right, thus making the combination exponentially more impactful. Warren’s bass tone complements Osborne’s tone-sucked guitar work beautifully. Decidedly buzzy (pardon the pun), his four-string mastery lends a richness to the album that had only been achieved previously with the help of David Scott Stone.
And then there is the much ballyhooed double drumming of Crover and Willis. The Melvins haven’t begun to encroach on gimmicky Doobie Brothers territory: all of (A) Senile Animal’s rhythms are tasteful and natural sounding. So much so, in fact, that it can be easy to miss that are two drummers pounding out each beat. It’s only when the tempo slows prominently (like on “Civilized Worm”) that the two drummers begin to deviate. That isn’t to say the Melvins have underutilized the additional thronesman. In fact, Willis is in lock step with the legendarily heavy-handed Crover for the album’s entirety.
As for the songs: The snaky bass riff of “The Talking Horse” makes it the soundtrack to the strip club of my dreams, and the stutter-stepping of “Blood Witch” is a testament to just how airtight the band has become. While “Civilized Worm” showcases Osborne’s continued Jimmy Page idolatry, “A History of Bad Men” features the oft-neglected three-part harmony. Such surprises are par for the course, it seems. One miscue on (A) Senile Animal is closer “A Vast Filthy Prison,” which toils fruitlessly for almost seven minutes without any sort of crescendo or conclusion.
But such criticisms are insignificant when you compare them to the degree of the difficulty for this unheard-of endeavor. Who else but King Buzzo would attempt to amass another band in its entirety. It’s going to mighty difficult to top this, Mr. Osborne.
Label: http://www.ipecac.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/themelvins