Melvins – Pinkus Abortion Technician (Album Review)
Melvins – Pinkus Abortion Technician
Released: 20th April 2018
Buzz ‘King Buzzo’ Osbourne – guitar/vocals
Dale Crover – drums
Jeff Pinkus – bass
Steven McDonald – bass
Melvins are a band that I forgot about for quite some time. It’s not that they’ve gone away — they’ve amassed ten releases in the last decade, including this new one — Pinkus Abortion Technician, they just for some reason fell off my radar sometime around the turn of the decade. Being driven largely by what I had in front of me at any given moment for the better part of my adult life, I’d more or less had blinders on prior to starting my tenure at Wall Of Sound.
It’s also not that they’re untalented or uninspired listening. They carry a unique sound that at times dips into abrasiveness, like a slow-moving lava flow approaching over the surrounding terrain. When you carry that much power behind you, it’s hard not to listen. Pinkus Abortion Technician certainly reinforces that concept.
Unlike previous albums they’ve produced, and there is a lot of them, Pinkus features tandem bass players — Melvins starting player, Steven McDonald, and Butthole Surfers‘ alumni, Jeff Pinkus. Buzz Osbourne, aka. King Buzzo, says of the decision to pad out the bottom end, “We’ve never had two bass players. We’ve had two drummers and two guitar players so it makes total sense to now have two bass players.” He adds, “I like Steven and Jeff a great deal. I admire their bass playing and singing and both of them can grill a mean steak.”
They’re certainly not ones to shy away from these kinds of gimmicks and shenanigans over their now- 35-year lifespan. Their career is littered with moments that to the casual observer may result in just a little bit of head-scratching, but for a fan form just another part of the appeal. They’ve done their best to court controversy on occasion; the widely-lauded release, Never Breathe What You Can’t See — which they released with Dead Kennedys frontman, Jello Biafra — proved that formula by seeing the members adopt deliberately provocative monikers, including Jon Benet Milosevic (an allusion to murdered child beauty queen, JonBenét Ramsey, and Serbian war criminal, Slobodan Milošević) and George W. McVeigh (alluding to then- US president, George W. Bush, and notorious Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh).
They’re friends with some of the most respected in the business. Their beginnings saw them function as one of the leading lights in the Seattle scene in the mid-1980s, later being instrumental in the foundation of seminal Grunge collectives, Nirvana — a band that drummer, Dale Crover, played in prior to Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic being introduced to Dave Grohl – something Osbourne claims responsibility for; and Mudhoney, a group that original bassist, Matt Lukin went on to form when the rest of the band relocated to San Francisco.
Since the beginning, they’ve worked with a range of collaborators to make any band envious. Most recently, aside from Pinkus and Biafra, they’ve worked alongside Tool guitarist, Adam Jones, and a guy who seems to pop up on everybody’s record at one point or another, Mike Patton — both their boss at Ipecac, and co-conspirator in Fantômas with Osbourne. Then there was former Pixies guitarist, Joey Santiago, who played on their last record, A Walk with Love & Death. Novoselic even offered his handiwork on 2016’s Basses Loaded.
The new album certainly doesn’t let the Patton connection go by the wayside. At more than a few moments throughout proceedings, one can’t help but to be recalled of his old project, Mr. Bungle. It features very similar musical accoutrements to their aesthetic, one which is distinctive in having a fairly childlike, amusement park carnival quality which is both whimsical and sinister. There’s even moments on tracks like ‘Don’t Forget To Breathe’ where you can’t help but find yourself wondering if this is merely a sludge homage to another of his projects, Peeping Tom.
Then there’s moments that you feel like you’re stuck in that weird echo chamber you get while listening to Flaming Lips, played ever-so-slightly slower. The creatively-titled, ‘Prenup Butter’ is one such example.
The good news is that it isn’t merely a cheap rendition of somebody else’s work — even if two of the tracks on the album, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, of Beatles‘ fame, and ‘Grave Yard’, lifted from Butthole Surfers‘ repertoire, literally are. The first track on the record, ‘Stop Moving To Florida’, takes the premise even further, and is a conceptual- and musical mashup of James Gang‘s, ‘Stop‘, and Butthole Surfers‘, ‘Moving To Florida‘. The album title itself makes more than passing reference to Pinkus‘ time with the Surfers, aping his first with the band, Locust Abortion Technician.
Broadly speaking, everything on the album has its own distinct theme and feel. ‘Flamboyant Duck’, a banjo-and-drum driven bassfest, is a prime example of that uniquity that they have managed to cultivate here.
However, don’t take all of this to mean that it’s a perfect record. It’s a pretty good one, and certainly one of their better ones in recent times musically and conceptually, but there’s still moments that you can’t help but feel exist almost exclusively for the purpose of taking the piss out of the listener. The inclusion of the soliloquy component of ‘Stop Moving To Florida’ feels like a serious mistake, coming at the cost of listenability of what is otherwise a pretty good way to start the record. Granted, it’s pretty true to the original that it mimics, but then, the original was borderline unlistenable on its own, but the transition from ‘Stop‘ into it feels like being steamrolled. That is, not exactly welcome.
This is more or less what they have done time and again, to the point it almost feels like being a fan is at moments an entirely thankless job. It’s not; when they’re good, they’re good, but holy shit, when they aren’t, they can be truly awful.
Thankfully this record finds itself mostly in the former rather than too much of the latter. A solid listen, though it’s definitely worth looking at it in the context of their back catalogue if you’ve never found yourself at their door.
Melvins – Pinkus Abortion Technician tracklisting
1. Stop Moving To Florida
2. Embrace The Rub
3. Don’t Forget To Breathe
4. Flamboyant Duck
5. Break Bread
6. I Want To Hold Your Hand
7. Prenup Butter
8. Grave Yard
Pinkus Abortion Technician is out Friday April 20th via Liberator Music. Pre-Order here
Review by Benji Aldridge @norks
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