Calling Buzz Osborne eccentric is like saying Tiger Woods is wound slightly tight. It’s among the grossest understatements in the long and storied history of gross understatements. This is, after all, a close friend of Jello Biafra and Mike Patton. The so-called King Buzzo and his Melvins have an extensive history themselves of channeling this crackpot creativity through their music for the benefit of us all, often quite ingenious and nearly as often quite confusing. The majority of a modern Melvins album (those with the Big Business lads in tow on bass and second drums) owes much to the sludge’n’roll of favorites like Stoner Witch, laced with classic rock freeness and a periphery of strange trips into the afro-engulfed psyche of Osborne.
The Bride Screamed Murder is, by and large, quite similar in its root approach and results. It is a natural progression of the band’s recent material, with the dual John Bonham drumming being even more pronounced. (Crover and Willis sound like a million bucks, and keep an ear out for the left-right mix; top notch.) “The Water Glass” begins in a (big) business-as-usual manner, offering the band’s elephantine riffs and whale-heavy grooves before moving into… a military sound-off? With Sergeant Buzzo and his platoon of backup vocals come visions of Stripes and other fun-loving US Armed Forces romps; so mark up track one for the entrance of the weirdness, as opposed to the usual fourth or fifth. “Evil New War God” brings the album into more “true” Melvins territory, harkening back to the band’s better-known mid-90s work, but takes a diversion of its own with softer organ-laced music dominating the second half.
Placing the experimentation/exploration/goofball antics more within tracks than between them is one of the album’s more curious facets. Sometimes, as with “Evil New War God,” it works brilliantly. In other cases, the confusing “I’ll Finish You Off” for example… well not so much. Another somewhat unique characteristic of The Bride Screamed Murder is the heightened focus on melody. The increasingly sung vocals, including some almost soaring harmonies, are only part of this, as the instrumentation gets in on it too. The guitar melodies in “Hospital Up” offer a very clear sense of the band’s native Washington State, particularly Soundgarden’s more classic-rock-minded period. Many of the more textured riffs are what Led Zeppelin might have sounded like in Seattle circa 1990; but that’s only the riffs, the overall package remains 120% Melvins.
To be brutally honest, something is missing here compared to the band’s other recent work. (A) Senile Animal and Nude With Boots were by no means perfect, but perfection isn’t a quality normally attributed to a Melvins album anyway. Blunt force asskickery is, and The Bride Screamed Murder is a mite short. The toe-tappin’-head-bobbin’ “Electric Flower” is the only song that truly reaches a “Billy Fish,” “Joan of Arc,” or “Queen” with its level of sludge-o-matic infectiousness. The band’s best long players all contain several such rockers, which act to glue Osborne’s more space-monkey moments together, and this latest certainly could have used a few more of those to make up for ill-advised missteps like the smartass (read: just plain shit) cover of The Who’s “My Generation.”
When all is said and done, the old rule holds true for The Bride Screamed Murder: even a middling Melvins album is better than what 90 percent of the rest of the field could ever hope to put out. Long time fans of the band will find (as usual) plenty to enjoy, and (as usual) plenty to scratch their heads about. Yet without the startling eccentricities and left turns into the very odd mind of Buzz Osborne, (the) Melvins would likely have long since ceased to be one of underground rock’s greatest staples.
And that’s the fact, Jack.