Review: Melvins – “Five-Legged Dog”

The Melvins, God bless them, always have been an act eager to revisit their canon, to dive deep into the discography, and see what new diamonds they can mine. And so it goes with the trio’s new Frankenstein, a 4x LP titled Five Legged Dog, an acoustic re-imagining and considerable entrée of their nearly 40-year-long career. It’s alternately flawed, fascinating, and fantastic – credit, in the least, should be given to these guys for even trying something so bombastic and potentially career-rattling. No strangers to taking chances, Buzz Osborne and company deliver mightily on certain tracks and belly-flop a bit elsewhere. But the whole thing is about as close to a complete reinvention of their sound as we’ve seen in the group’s mighty run to date.

Osborne, the band’s atom-bomb-haired frontman, foregoes the electric crunch for which he is known to adopt the deep-strummed, at times even guttural, acoustic tendencies toward which he’s hinted on his recent solo LPs. The absence, in fact, of King Buzzo’s face-melting drop-D histrionics might be the most startling thing about the LP. Although staples like “Hooch”, “The Bloated Pope”, and “It’s Shoved” are given faithful – even dogmatic – treatment, it’s just weird to hear such emblems of punk-metal captured alongside, nay, led by the brightness of an acoustic six-string. Steven McDonald, he of Redd Kross and Off! fame, again joins the boys on bass and does an admirable job.

We’re sad to report the blah-fidelity treatment engineer Toshi Kasai gave McDonald on Pinkus Abortion Technician is magnified significantly here. Kasai can record metal, but his attempts on Five Legged Dog at treating or capturing acoustic bass often sound, somewhat literally, like a big old stereo fart. Sorry. It had to be said. The whole crew lends itself to the vocals, and they are done magically, even transcendentally, at times, capturing a hippie-chorale tone appropriate to the LP session’s Laurel Canyon roots. It’s a trip, for sure.

Dale Crover, drummer extraordinaire, is the most catholic (lower-case “c”) player on the discs, which run to 36 songs. Though press materials and photos promoting Five-Legged Dog suggest he played the drums with brushes instead of sticks, that distinction does not pass muster with the sounds on display. Crover is ill-suited to subtlety, and, for the most part, he pounds – if slightly more tenderly – on his kit, note for note replicating the LP’s treatments and live performances of the material.

The mention of the live performances of the material is significant. The band’s live sets, which this reviewer has been catching since the late 1990s, are wondrous, explosive things, and Melvins feed their fanbase what they know it wants: reproductions of newer material, as well as a generous sampling of the staples, the hits, and the deep cuts. To hear a Melvins concert is to transcend discography – if these guys weren’t such road dogs, you’d swear they were always playing an epic, greatest-hits-and-all farewell tour – and such is the case on the better moments of Five-Legged Dog.

“Billy Fish”, a banger from the Big Business era, is one of the finer tracks on display, with the multi-pronged vocals really clicking and the band sounding like they’re having rollicking fun. “Boris” is delicious, the whole band fueled by soma – or are those heavy-duty Benzos? Buzzo’s loose-string lead—you can hear the borderline detuned strings rattle – is spot-on. The aforementioned “Bloated Pope” is as demonic as ever, despite the lack of Buzzo’s dirge-punk electric lead. “Lovely Butterflies”, the ever-classic “It’s Shoved”, and “Honey Bucket” – yes, an acoustic “Honey Bucket!” – can’t be missed. “The Bit” is a slithery epic, and you can’t go wrong with another re-creation of “Night Goat.”

There are some less than stellar moments, as you imagine there would be for something this career-spanning. “Let God Be Your Gardener” is unnecessary and doesn’t gel with what surrounds it. The acoustic guitars and perky bass lines are sometimes lost in “Revolve”, where Crover’s sometimes unnecessary volume steals the show. The covers are interesting, with a so-so take on Brainiac’s “Flypaper”, proving nobody does Timmy Taylor like Timmy Taylor did. They do well with Redd Kross’ “Charlie”; verdict’s out on their take on “Sway” by the Rolling Stones. I liked Crover’s dry vocal lead on “Everybody’s Talking” – yeah, THAT “Everybody’s Talking”.

At its finest, though, Five-Legged Dog is downright transgressive, suggesting all sorts of alternate-history narratives for these Washington-bred weirdos. Does it stand up to Nirvana’s career-capping MTV acoustic set in its derring-do? Come on, I know you all were wondering if we’d go there. Well, Nirvana’s Grohl was far more willing to be muted and nuanced than Crover is here, and that’s a big distinction. But, spin the acoustic take on “Night Goat” again – there’s magic there. The new Melvins LP – well, to be accurate, four of the Melvins’ new LPs – is again an expectation-defying wonder. It’s far from perfect and pristine, but we’ve come to love these guys without all the lines cleanly placed. We said it at the beginning of this review, and we’ll repeat it: God bless this trio for continuing to take chances this deep into its history. — Justin Vellucci, PopMatters, Oct. 13, 2021

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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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