Review: The Melvins – A Senile Animal

Originally published in Punk Planet March/April 2007

During the two decades The Melvins have been churning out records and wreaking havoc on stereo speakers, they’ve featured more bassists than the U.S. has had presidents. Appropriately, the revolving door that’s accompanied guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover often turns with a shift in the group’s thunderous administration.

Matt Lukin, who left in the mid-80s to join Mudhoney, represented The Melvins grungy early days in the Pacific Northwest, Lorax and Joe Preston its sludgy Boner Records years, Mark Deutrom the addictive hooks of its Atlantic-era catalog, and Kevin Rutmanis the noisy, experimental leanings of its Ipecac-sponsored rebirth.

So, it’s completely fitting that the group’s latest full-length, the pitch-perfect successor to 2002’s critically lauded Hostile Ambient Takeover, helps shift gears with a new lineup. The rumors are true: The Melvins have enlisted not only a new bassist but the kit-pounding assistance of a second drummer.

The group begins its days as a quartet with a sound that’s both inherited from previous records and refreshingly new. Sure, long-time followers will hear much of The Melvins’ distortion-drenched back catalog in the record’s 10 floor-rattling tracks, but, more than anything else, the disc sits near the intersection of raw Ipecac outings like The Maggot and studio-refined, mid 90’s full-lengths like Houdini, Stoner Witch and Stag.

In short, it barks, kicks and screams but makes sure to put the hook in your mouth before pulling you along for the ride.

The whole package is broken into three loosely defined parts.

In the first, we get anthemic punk-metal and Houdini-era hard-rock (“The Talking Horse,” “Civilized Worm”), as well as “Blood Witch,” an addictive, stop-start jaunt that owes some debts to the Melvins/Lustmord gem “Bloated Pope.”

The disc’s midsection boasts a quartet of pounding barnburners that, thanks to the joys of CD sequencing, blur together like the band’s don’t-stop-to-catch-your-breath live sets: “A History of Drunks,” “Rat Faced Granny,” “The Hawk” and “You’ve Never Been Right.”

To close, they return to the drum patterns of “Civilized Worm” but then pull the carpet from beneath you, serving up three tracks whose repetitions and longer-winded verses might remind the faithful of “Anaconda” or Lysol.

What’s most amazing about A Senile Animal, though, is how the whole disc holds together in light of all these seemingly disjointed elements. You could chalk it up, I guess, to great songs that have been given the time to percolate and brew. Despite a non-stop string of releases – two discs with Jello Biafra and the Mangled Demos set, CDs with Lustmord and as the Melvins/Fantomas Big Band, numerous side projects – Osborne and Crover haven’t cut a proper Melvins record in about four years.

But even purists would have a tough time arguing that the new lineup doesn’t add a sharpened sting to The Melvins’ signature attack.

Bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis – the duo Big Business, in their own right – bring out the best in the group’s core members and make Crover’s already stories rhythm section all the more volatile.

Willis, in particular, does more than just add volume to the mix, expanding on Crover’s delivery with impeccably timed fills and drum patterns that force the proceedings into a kind of percussive echo chamber. Listen to the pounding rattle-and-rumble that closes “You’ve Never Been Right,” the off-kilter notes bumping into each other like overheated atoms, for evidence.

The past 20-odd years have taught us The Melvins’ lineup is an ever-evolving one and, as in American politics, it’s likely the names of those steering the ship will change in coming years. But, really, that’s beside the point, isn’t it?

Years and years after most bands have split over “creative differences” or resigned themselves to reunion junkets chock full of stale material, The Melvins continue to release new records as good as what they were doing when some of their fans were in diapers.

A Senile Animal is proof that a new lineup simply reinforces a familiar sentiment: there’s a new Melvins record out and you’ve got to hear it.

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