Basses Loaded

The very fact that the Melvins still exist, albeit it in whatever form perennial pig-head King Buzzo chooses on any particular day, should be a cause for constant celebration. Not only are they the last of the so-called ‘proto’-grunge acts still standing without requiring a post-rehab reunion (or ‘the last band standing’ as Krist Novoselic describes them in the trailer for upcoming documentary The Colossus Of Destiny), they seem to have been permanently afflicted with whatever the polar opposite of writer’s block is since 1986. With their new effort and the recent delayed release of Three Men and a Baby (recorded with godheadSilo’s Mike Kunka back in 1999) the number of LPs the band has spewed out now stands at 23. 23! That’s enough Melvins themed novelty coasters to legitimately cater for a full Hawkwind reunion tea party.

But though Buzz ‘n’ Dale have never had a problem retaining their creative flair, they do seem to have a problem holding down their low end. Lori Black, Mark Deutrom, Kevin Rutmanis, the list of corpses in the Melvins’ bassist morgue goes on and ever on. As their latest LP’s name suggests it seems that the Melvins have now fully committed to operating a revolving door policy and have simply opted to make an album that features six different bassists across its 12 tracks.

So let’s get the review formalities out of the way: Basses Loaded is excellent. Like every other Melvins record it holds its own identity while oozing the same sweet black guitar sludge they have re-perfected many times over the years. You know what to expect by this point. The album shreds, it grooves, it pummels, and it turns all the lights out and showers your still, petrified form with hard rock spittle and leaves you begging for more. Now let’s get down to the more important business of stacking up each bassist to appear on the album and ranking their individual contributions shall we?

6. Krist Novoselic – Plays on ‘Maybe I Am Amused’

Without a doubt the most famous four-stringer on the album, one of history’s greatest sidemen and the closest thing to a household name a bassist can get without adopting a monosyllabic insectoid moniker. How can a legend such as Krist be relegated to the bottom of the scoreboard you ask? Because the man stopped really being a bassist the moment Nirvana swansong ‘You Know Your Right’s rolling bassline faded into silence in 1994.

These days if you want to work with Krist you have to sign a contract stipulating that he will play one part bass and three parts accordion and the accordion will also receive 50% of the songwriting credit and royalties. The jaunty walking bassline he plays is fine enough, but you know that deep down the only collaborator he really wants to hear from is either Kurt’s ghost or a Parisian mime troupe, whichever reaches out to him first.

5. Trevor Dunn – Plays on ‘Planet Distructo’

A long-time King Buzzo collaborator in avant-garde supergroup Fantômas, it seems only appropriate that Trevor should provide the oddest bass section on the album. Preferring his trusty double bass to the more compact models heard elsewhere, he starts things off nicely with a dose of jazz bar noodling under a sustained guitar preamble. However, as Buzz’s beeline riff gains purpose and momentum what started off as a refreshing change of pace quickly becomes an act of self-sabotage and the song dissolves into an irritating jazz-fusion clusterfuck. It just goes to show that what might work with Mike Patton won’t necessarily work with any other human being.

4. Dale Crover – Plays on ‘Beer Hippie’, ‘Shaving Cream’, ‘Phyllis Dillard’ and ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’

A return of the ‘Melvins 1983’ line-up which sees drummer Dale Crover move to the role of bass guitarist with forgotten founding member Mike Dillard picking up the sticks. Dale’s telepathic connection to Buzz’s broiling brain remains unbroken even when he abandons his beloved toms. The growling low end of ‘Phyllis Dillard’ is one of the meatiest moments on an album purpose built to soundtrack vegans’ nightmares.

Despite his respectable fretwork, Dale’s spots on the twin sea shanty skits ‘Shaving Cream’ and ‘Ballgame’ lay bare his role as a placeholder bassist, only to be utilised when he and Buzz have exhausted the phone directory. Every second he spends away from his drumkit is a second that could be spent teaching Mike Dillard how to play the fucking thing.

3. Steve McDonald – Plays on ‘The Decay of Lying’, ‘I Want To Tell You’, ‘Hideous Woman’ and ‘War Pussy’

The veteran Redd Kross man teamed up with the Melvins to record last year’s War Pussy EP which provides much of the backbone for Basses Loaded. Steve’s guest credits include everyone from novelty metalheads Tenacious D to tween-rockers Fun, so he obviously has no problem blending into the sound of whichever band requires his chameleonic services. ‘Hideous Woman’ sees him following Buzz’s zigzag songwriting style without missing a trick while single ‘War Pussy’ proves that the pop-punk pioneer can spread sludge around with the best of them. If this whole thing turns out to be nothing more than a glorified audition process then King Buzzo could do far worse than to add Steve to their line-up on a more permanent basis(st) (sorry).

2. Jeff Pinkus – Plays on ‘Captain Come Down’

Jeeeesus those bass chords. This isn’t the first time that JD Pinkus has joined forces with his fellow perpetrators of the 90s’ very finest fuzz. 2014 saw him and fellow Butthole Surfer Paul Leary adding some tectonic heft to Hold On creating a serious contender for best riff of the 10s on the savage ‘Sesame Street Meat’ along the way. Even though he sticks around on the album for less than three minutes his presence is palpable. This is the closest the Melvins have come to recapturing the detuned power of their seminal stoner rock template Lysol in quite some time, and God it’s good.

1. Jared Warren – Plays on ‘Choco Plumbing’

If there’s one Melvins album that can rival Lysol in the raw power stakes it’s their 2006 pulveriser (A) Senile Animal. With the help of Big Business’s Jared Warren on bass and Coady Willis doubling up the drum sound, Animal proved to be a masterclass in how to knock down perceived walls between what was considered ‘accessible’ and what was considered ‘heavy’, putting Josh Homme out of a job in the process. Seriously, every one of its tracks sounded like it should have evicted whatever trite the Foo Fighters had churned out that year from the top of the alternative rock charts and stayed there til kingdom come.

The greatest compliment that can be paid ‘Choco Plumbing’ is that it sound like it should have been on that album. Though everyone remembers the double-drum jackhammer attack, they often overlook Jared’s role in coaxing out Buzz’s more melodic side with his knack for a (civilised) earworm and a playing style so complementary it could be cast as Hugh Grant. Jared’s playing style matches Buzz’s stroke for stroke, occasionally even outstripping the King himself, and his unique harmonies fit the band’s vibe perfectly. Hell, even his hair rivals Buzz’s.

Jarred and Buzz should spend every waking hour together. They should write together, perform together, live together, shower together… the list goes on. For a while now the Melvins have continually switched up their vibe in an effort to become the best version of themselves they can be. The truth is they found it a decade ago.

Long live King Jared.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today