Working With God by MelvinsRelease date: February 26, 2021
Label: Ipecac Recordings
The big wheel keeps on churning and alternative nation’s creepy uncles Melvins return with another weighty sack of weird they straight dragged up onto your front porch and left there. Seeping. They’re going way back this time with the Melvins 1983 line up, which means original Melvin Mike Dillard on drums and Dale Crover moving over to bass. Trying to make out they finally found their way around to walking right with the Lord. Don’t buy it, despite its name Working With God is not, as best as I can tell, a gospel record. Although the idea of Buzz finding Jesus and making one, well you know you’d want to check that out, right? Until that happy day dawns what they got in the sack is the usual mix of punk attitude and metal riffs coated in that thick, sticky Melvins’ secret sauce. They didn’t choose the sludge life… and so on.
In Melvins terms it’s been a while since their last album, 2018’s Pinkus Abortion Technician, but like buses three just come along at once. Working With God arrives alongside reissues of their debut Gluey Porch Treatments and 2002’s Hostile Ambient Takeover. Not that the band have been kicking their heels, there’s been a steady string of collaborative EP’s (Flipper, Redd Kross, Mudhoney) and the first side here is basically last year’s Mullet EP. So you might already be familiar with the gleefully pell mell ‘Bouncing Rick’ and the grinding ‘Caddy Daddy’ with its oddly enjoyable refrain “it’s morally superior!” Perhaps you too have wondered whether the hapless caricature in ‘Brian, The Horse Faced Goon’ is supposed to be Marilyn Manson or not.
Generally it pays not to think too hard about what Melvins lyrics are about because they get pretty abstract. Although not always, ‘Fuck You’ is bracingly direct. Candid, you might even say, but then the tune is a joyous, spot on homage to Cheap Trick, which adds a layer of confusing misdirection. We know the band, particularly Dale, are big fans and yet despite their fondness for cover versions they’ve never actually recorded a Cheap Trick tune. They joined them onstage a couple of years back for a run through ‘Surrender’ but that’s it. Are they screwing with us? Was it one of those ‘never meet your heroes’ situations, or is it just funny? While we’re here can we note down ‘Cheap Trick covers EP’ next to ‘The Gospel Album’ as future Melvins projects I definitely want to see happen at some point?
What else they got? The churn ‘n’ stumble of ‘Negative No No’ is a bit standard issue and the queasily absurd ‘Hot Fish’ reappears from the Flipper split. ‘Boy Mike’ is an urgent ripper in similar vein to ‘Bouncing Rick’ that escalates the weirdness as it goes on with layers of feedback and backwards running vocals. Isn’t that backwards thing a Satanist trip? I thought we were Working With God here fellers. The God Melvins worship is the great God of Chug, here seen conquering all with the wrath and the thunder and the lightning and whatnot on the ‘The Great Good Place’ and ‘Hund’.
Then of course there’s the strange matter of how this album opens and closes. ‘I Fuck Around’ is a musically straight up reading of The Beach Boys’ ‘I Get Around’ with the lyrics liberally scrawled over with fucks. Stupid, childish and hilarious it probably stretches back to their school days, maybe the rehearsal room when they were a new band back in ’83. The puzzle of it is, what in actual God’s name is a now well respected band of near 40 years standing doing kicking off their latest album with a dumb high school gag? There must have been a few discussions about the wisdom or otherwise of this idea but there it is leading the charge. The final few seconds are a weedy keyboard sound and a stern admonition to “stop fucking around.” Now, of the mountain of irritants that get uncle Buzz extra grouchy one has long been the suggestion that the band’s wilder experiments are just attempts to screw with people, this seems to be both an admission of guilt and a fuck-you-for-thinking-that all wrapped up in the form of a very silly joke. Nicely done.
Echoing its harmonies and classicism they close out with a version of deathless doo-wop hit ‘Good Night Sweetheart’ which starts out backwards but flips over to clean acapella harmonising. Originally a hit in the 50’s for The Spaniels it’s a song that has regularly resurfaced ever since. Could it be that Melvins are big fans of Nicholas Lyndhurst’s 90’s time travel and bigamy sitcom of the same name? It’d be nice to think so but tour bus boredom only takes you so far. A more likely TV point of entry is Sha Na Na who regularly finished their late 70’s show with it. You might remember Sha Na Na from the iconic Woodstock movie where they appeared before Jimi Hendrix, at his behest, and very nearly stole the show with an amphetamine fueled, gold lamé clad jolt of rock ‘n roll mania that landed like an alien spacecraft in that mud caked field of exhausted beardy earnestness.
Who knows what makes your weird uncle Melvins tick? We may never unravel it, but there’s a clue hidden there I think. In a good way, they never grew up, they just grew stranger. Melvins understand why Sha Na Na are, despite being ridiculous, both more exciting and more honest than all those bleating, emotionally incontinent, singer songwriter dullards. Smart enough to get away with ‘I Fuck Around’. Honest enough to get experimental without being pompous about it. True believers in the dumb adolescent mess of energy and defiance that makes for the best rock ‘n’ roll. Praise the Lord.