Review: Melvins 1983 – “Working With God”

Melvins 1983, for those of you just joining the nearly 40-year-long narrative, is the latest iteration of everyone’s favorite Gods of Thunder, marching toward death with original/current guitar legend Buzz Osborne, original drummer Mike Dillard and longtime member Dale Crover, who dabbled in Nirvana and Fecal Matter and remains one of the finest working drummers in the under- or over-ground, holding down the bottom end. This month, the 1983 lineup takes another giant leap forward with a new LP, Working with God, and it is a mighty testament to the trio’s internal chemistry that the thing is one of the better Melvins records of the past five or six years.

The group marked its debut with an Ipecac Records release of “mangled” 1983 demos that were both tongue-in-cheek and a little rough around the edges. The reunited 1983 lineup’s mission expanded dramatically back in 2014 when the trio started working with new material, most of it writ by Osborne, for the epic, stoner-rockish and Sabbath-fixated Tres Cabrones. Instead of sounding like some lame, dusty, grunge archival recordings, that release glowed with lightning-bright hyperkinetic energy and enthusiasm; especially of note was pounder Mike Dillard, a powerful but long-absent presence who’s been largely on the straight and narrow, working a union job in Washington state since the Reagan ‘80s. Go figure.

The February 26 release date of Working with God coincides with Ipecac Records’ vinyl-only reissues of two Melvins standard-bearers, Gluey Porch Treatments and Hostile Ambient Takeover. Osborne, Dillard and Crover sound cocked, loaded and fully engaged throughout the new 13-song LP but – as on Tres Cabrones, which, yeah, features an a cappella rendition of “99 Beers on the Wall” – they also sound like they’re having shitloads of fun.

Working with God is bookended by two beautiful reminders of that trademark Melvins 1983 humor. Opener “I Fuck Around” is an expletive-laced, punked up and mighty, mighty excellent take on The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around,” and closer “Goodnight Sweetheart” is another a cappella gem in the growing canon. Between those outliers is some thrilling hard rock, post-metal and nascent punk-isms.

“Negative No No” features some clever percussive pitter-patter (listen to Dillard work that hi-hat) and a bluesy guitar line that wallops the ear. “Hund” harkens back to the Melvins zenith in the distortion-dirty Houdini era, and “Caddy Daddy” adds thrilling metal thunder to a grungy crawl of a song. There are moments of levity, of course, and longtime listeners will thrill at these guys not taking themselves too seriously – namely on “Brian the Horse-Faced Goon,” which features a quirky little intro, and “Fuck You,” a veritable arena anthem that owes more to KISS than it does to occasional straight-faced Melvins collaborators Tool.

Elsewhere, there are other damn fine songs, which – this might be a surprise to those who haven’t heard Tres Cabrones – hang right up and alongside there with vintage Melvins like “Night Goat” or “It’s Shoved,” “Boris” or “Black Stooges.” “The Great Good Place” has a melodic and hooky chorus, yes, yes, but that doesn’t limit the roar of King Buzzo’s palm-muted attack. The song simply beguiles. “Bouncing Rick,” which, y’know, kind of bounces, and the thrashy “Boy Mike” would not have been out of place on the Melvins quartet lineup featuring the Big Business boys; yes, it’s that good.

Melvins are known by some fans for the mighty noise they make, as well as the fluid nature of the group’s lineups. Though Osborne and Crover have been nailing down a legend-defining, monumental discography since around 1984, in the time since, they’ve had more bassists than the United States has had presidents. After Kevin Rutmanis, who fit the group like a bloodied leather glove, left the band, Melvins took an even more experimental turn with its membership, including quartet Melvins Lite, a Sub Pop line-up dubbed “Mike and the Melvins” and a core trio with bassists ranging from Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus to Redd Kross founder Steve McDonald. Melvins 1983 is increasingly becoming, quite appropriately, a return to roots affair, with the trio flashing its grungy cred and throbbing-ears volume, as well as tackling a weird array of covers, some of them without an instrument in sight. Working with God is another gem in the canon. Tell Buzzo Spectrum Culture said it first – brothers, PREACH! — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Feb. 26, 2021


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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