Before I begin writing critically about this record, I feel like transparency is in order. I would not consider myself a Melvins fan. This L.A. by way of rural Washington State trio has loyal fans that snap up every last bit of vinyl that features their music, no matter the cost, but I’m hardly that dedicated. The only Melvins album I own is Houdini, and I love it from top to bottom. “Honey Bucket” is a contender for meanest, toughest song of all time, and their take on KISS’ “Goin’ Blind” is one of those rare instances where the cover might be better than the original.
I’ve seen them live, and have sampled a substantive portion of their discography, so I know what they’re capable of. The Melvins are like the Beatles for me: I respect them greatly and fully understand how responsible they are for shaping a large cross-section of the music I hold dear, but I don’t find the need to celebrate their every last note. That being said, the Melvins’ new double record, A Walk With Love And Death, as a whole is really tough to deal with. Really tough.
The first nine tracks of the record, referred to as Death, are solid, listenable, weirdo rock that fans, or anyone who appreciates creative music could enjoy. Tracks 10-23, or Love, are actually a score for a short film produced by the band and directed by Jesse Nieminen. It’s that portion of A Walk that feels like a huge “fuck you” to a rock solid fan base that would buy anything Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover (and current bassist Steve McDonald) would sell them.
Now, lets circle back to the first paragraph. After I fell in love with Houdini, I remember going to the record store and perusing the Melvins section. Thinking that all their records were a little off kilter, but full of some serious, weighty riffage, I took the only used record that was available at the time to the listening station: 1994’s Prick, their follow up to their major label debut. I skipped around the tracks on the record looking for another “Honey Bucket,” but what I found instead was a bunch of noise and structureless nonsense. It was at that moment I realized how deep the Melvins’ penchant for the odd went. I came to the conclusion that half of their musical being was, and still is out of my wheelhouse of understanding. Enter A Walk With Love And Death 23 years later, and it looks like the band is still on the same, bizarro island all to themselves.
Standing on its own, Death is great. “Black Health” slinks and slithers along hypnotically. “Sober-dellic,” lyrically and musically, feels like a drunk uncle giving heartfelt advice on a porch to his wayward nephew. It’s calm and measured, with a tinge of delirium tremens. And just to show they can be heavy and still get some hips moving, the cheeky “What’s Wrong With You” could have go-go dancers covered in technicolor body paint blowing bubbles in its music video. All nine songs of Death don’t tout the traditional song structure, but they have a poetic feel that makes them music. They’re fun, they’re heavy, they’re strange and they’re music.
Then, two minutes into “Cradboa Negro,” the last track of the Death portion of the record, it all starts going south. The subsequent 14 tracks of Love, aside from some funny song titles like “Chicken Butt” and “The Asshole Bastard,” are utter baloney. There’s echoing piano tinklings, random, chatty crowd sampling, bubbling, throbbing, grating electronic sounds, ranting and raving, indecipherable ramblings, cars starting, operatic female vocals, what sounds like whale songs and so on and so on.
Tucked in the middle of the erratic cavalcade is a short respite from “Scooba,” with it’s bebop beat, and cute vocalist scatting in what sounds like an Alka-Seltzer ad from 1955. It serves as a quick palate cleanser before the barrage begins again. Aside from “Scooba,” you can’t drive, dance, fuck or fight to any of Love. A release date has not been set for the short film, but judging from it’s minute long trailer, it appears to be as visually brainsick as the music accompanying it.