Review: Various Artists – “We Reach: The Music of The Melvins”

In a few adjectives, here’s the outsider’s cocktail-party crib-sheet on We Reach, an 18-track love letter to underground legends The Melvins: long overdue, sometimes intense but, ultimately, pretty disposable.
If you’re not a fan of The Melvins, you can pretty much stop reading right there.
For those who worship at the altar of King Buzzo, Dale Crover and whoever’s filling in on bass for them this year, the record, released with apparent blessings from Ipecac Recordings, is a slightly different story.

There’s little doubt there’s an audience for an epic Melvins tribute and even less doubt that the group, whose early recordings were pressed to vinyl 20-odd years ago, deserves one. The questions become who steps up to the challenge of covering the group and what they pull from the ever-expanding canon. The answers seem to be a lot of metal and throat-shredding post-hardcore acts mimicking material that’s heavy on The Melvins’ Atlantic Records years.

Does it work? Well, that depends on where you’re standing.

If you like faithful renditions hammered out by bands clearly influenced by their forebear’s thundering delivery, then yes. You’ll get The Dillinger Escape Plan’s blistering rendition of “Honey Bucket,” from Houdini, and easily recognizable takes on “Zodiac” (from Strapping Young Lad) and “Oven” (from High On Fire/Keelhaul).

The rage seethes on the dirgy “Boris,” reproduced herein with horror-film fangs by Isis and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. The cacophonous wallop of Mastodon tackling “The Bit,” from Stag, alone might be worth tracking down the disc.

But, as much fun as it might be to hear Maritime Murder’s lightning-footed “Copache” or the straight-forward crunch of Absentee’s “Revolve,” the disc seems to suffer from a lack of invention. For musicians paying tribute to a group known to experiment with formulas, inject dark humor into the proceedings or toy with audience expectations, everyone’s hesitating to stray from the script.

Sure, the disc begins with a Cerberus Shoal-like take on the revered “Nightgoat” from Mare and closes with Pincer 2 pulling a play-time Patton on “Echohead/Don’t Piece Me,” but much of what falls between those tracks is the expected sludge and roar. (If I wanted to hear The Melvins, wouldn’t I listen to The Melvins?)

There are, of course, exceptions. Dog Fashion Disco packs all the fury of “Anaconda” into the track’s distorted guitars but they underline the murderous insinuations of the original with sometimes-whispered vocals and, believe it or not, a piano line that borders on the sinister. CKY/Gnarkill cranks up the record-industry-must-be-destroyed commentary on “Laughing With Lucifer At Satan’s Sideshow.”

Others don’t seem to take the offer to appear as a dare to push the envelope as much as a chance to paint by numbers. Blessing The Hogs kills the subversive joys of “Hog Leg,” which The Melvins framed on Eggnog with unhinged guitar feedback and that bizarre Christian prayer cut-up, by simply barking the introduction and storming through the proceedings. Made Out of Babies stumbles through “Bar X The Rocking M.” Eyehategod’s lo-fi recording of “Easy As It Was” sounds less like a studied homage than a rip-off of the 10 Songs master.

There are other debates sure to be triggered by the disc, most centering around song selections and what’s missing. (No “It’s Shoved?” No “Mombius Hibachi?” No “Charmicarmicat?” No “Dr. Geek?” No “Ever Since My Accident?”) But, when it comes to tribute outings, those are the breaks and the bottom line’s just as familiar as the record’s tracks. For The Melvins completist, this one’s worth finding. For the listener with only passing curiosity, it’s better to pass this up in favor of the originals. – Delusions of Adequacy, Oct. 18, 2006

About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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