Sound — 7
Melvins have had a busy year so far, with April's release of "Three Men and a Baby," a collaboration with Mike Kunka (that was actually mostly recorded in 1999), and now, their 24th studio record, "Basses Loaded." The band's fare on the last several records has been a bit more experimental, and opening with the very bluesy "The Decay of Lying," the band starts the proceedings on a very hazy note. The first track on any album is usually what sets the tone for the record, and if I could classify this song, along with the entire record, as anything, it would be "psychedelic metal." The decidedly more upbeat "Choco Plumbing" still keeps with the theme, with its fuzzed-out guitar tones buzzing through the track. "Beer Hippie" is a slow, drugged-out sludgy tune, with a quirky keyboard melody and eccentric guitar solo. The band follows this with a cover of The Beatles' "I Want to Tell You," and though it almost seems like a strange fit, especially with how faithful and straight they covered the tune, they actually manage to pull it off quite well.
"Captain Come Down" is a bit more of a traditional sludge-metal tune with a good heavy riff and a crazy, noisy solo. "Hideous Woman" shows a bit of the band's more progressive tendencies with a strange time signature and a very elastic riff before blasting off into psychedelic-styled metal sound collages. "Shaving Cream" is a cover of a novelty song by Benny Bell written in 1946, but by the end of the song, turns into one of the strangest parts of the record, with loops and repeated vocals. And I'm just not sure that it really works for me. "Planet Destructo" takes us for another hazy hard-rock trip, but has a trippy, jazzy breakdown in the second half that's really something to behold. "War Pussy" is a short but epic rocker, another good headbanger with a cool solo. "Maybe I Am Amused" is a strange track featuring prominent accordion (played by ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic) and a typical noisy solo, but that doesn't really fit the track. "Phyllis Dillard" comprises another sludged-out rocker, with a big riff and a big wah-induced solo. The album closes with a very, very odd cover of the classic baseball anthem "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which is just a very strange way to end this record.
Musically speaking, this album seems very unfocused and rather wild, with strange noisy solos popping in and out of existence for brief moments, songs that drastically change mood and feel, and musical numbers that sound less like songs than soundscapes. While many of the individual tracks on the album are actually quite excellent, there does seem to be a bit of an issue with listening to this album as a whole. It can seem a little overwhelming to take in, even in spite of its 46 minute length. The more traditionally "rock" numbers on the album seem to be the better tracks on the record, while some of the band's more experimental tendencies kind of wear thin on me rather quickly. But when the band is in full-on headbanging mode, these songs are incredible.
The production is also kind of strange, with lots of weird sounds and interesting guitar effects like phasers and ring modulators. The bass guitars are the central focus of the record, being that the band recruited all of their former bass players from the past decade or so (Dale Crover, Steven McDonald, Jared Warren, Jeff Pinkus, and Trevor Dunn, along with a guest performance from Krist Novoselic), but even then, the production of the bass guitar sounds means it's more of a fuzzy sound that kind of blends in with the rest of the music, and only on a few songs does the bass actually pop out in the mix. The drums don't sound as powerful as they should for this kind of music, and that's a shame as the performances are great, and the band also utilized performances of multiple drummers as well (Dale Crover, Coady Willis, and Mike Dillard). I did find the vocal production rather disappointing, with Buzzo's voice being mostly drowned out by the music. Almost none of his lyrics ever seem to come through clearly. This is probably the intention of the producers, to create a drugged-out, smoky atmosphere for the record, though I have to admit that it's not a production style I particularly enjoy.
Despite some unfocused songwriting and technical hiccups in the production, there are still some really good tunes and some headbanging riffs on this album.
Lyrics — 6
King Buzzo is known for his rather unintelligible, nonsensical lyrics (while researching the topic, I noted that "Melvins lyrics make no sense" is one of Google's top searches about the band), and this album is no exception to the rule, with many of the lyrics of the album being very incredibly hard to make out without some kind of lyric sheet (which I had not been provided with for this review, so apologies if any lyrics I post are incorrect). Most of this is down to production, with Buzzo's vocals sounding like they were recorded with the cheapest microphones available to the studio, then drowned in reverb and delay effects ("Planet Destructo" is such a victim of this that the vocals are almost more of an ambiance added to the mix rather than a prominent instrument). But songs like the opening track, "The Decay of Lying" do feature some pretty typical stoner-metal lyrical conventions like the chorus's strains of "We were the heroes of the world/We died before we failed/There was no screaming only sleeping/To wear us down."
Buzzo's vocal style does fit the hazy nature of the music rather well. When his vocals aren't being pushed back in the mix and drowned by overdrive and reverb effects, they do command over the riffs in a very authoritative way. There are also a lot of gang vocals (provided by many of the bassists and drummers featured on the record), and sadly those don't do much to help the vocal production situation. But they do keep the vocal work sounding interesting.
Overall Impression — 7
Even though the production style of this record is not my cup of tea at all, I can definitely appreciate the excellence of much of the music on it. The band's unfocused writing style might not produce a consistent string of high-quality numbers, but there are many really good tracks on this record, like "Choco Plumbing," "War Pussy" and "Phylis Dillard," all of which feature some of the album's heaviest riffs. The experiment of having many of the band's former bassists and drummers may have affected the unfocused quality of the record, with many different stylistic inputs (for example, one can definitely feel Trevor Dunn's influence on a track like "Planet Destructo"). While the album had a lot of potential to come off as a sort of cinematic record, it does feel a bit off-kilter and disjointed, but that may be part of the appeal.
All in all, it's a pretty decent record, but far from perfect, and perhaps not what many people will expect from one of the pioneering bands, but when the band is playing to their strengths, they still make a very enjoyable and unique-sounding racket.