It might sound a little deliberately contrary but, in the current “more is more” music industry landscape (where more variant releases of albums on more formats with different tracklists are the norm), the biggest, longest variant of an album isn’t always the best one. The vinyl incarnation of Hold It In – The Melvins’ twenty-fourth studio album – perfectly upholds that assertion; released in December 2014 (around eight weeks after the CD version came out), the vinyl incarnation of the Melvins’ collaboration with Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers features two tracks fewer than its compact disc counterpart (although the back cover of the vinyl still lists “Eyes On You” and “House Of Gasoline” as being present, erroneously); while some would contend that such abbreviated play is a shortcoming, in fact the shorter runtime helps to better focus the album and causes it to hit that much harder.
Maybe to show the kind of power and promise that this new lineup of the Melvins has at its disposal, Hold It In opens with the powerhouse, rave-up rocker “Bride Of Crankenstein.” There, a torrential wave of guitars cascades down upon the heads of listeners and batters them beautifully with thick, heavy chords. The interplay between Osborne and Leary is incredible here; Osborne’s trademark sludgy proto-grunge pairs in an almost charmed way with Leary’s pigfucked-but-classically-informed guitar phrasing, and the two guitarists play off each other naturally in this beginning. Likewise, Dale Crover and Jeff Pinkus set up an infectious, serrated rhythm which listeners will recognize and relish in as the work of both. The combination of all these pieces amounts to a perfect balance between the Melvins’ power and the Butthole Surfers’ lunacy but then, in vintage Buttholes tradition, “Bride Of Crankenstein” crashes out and makes way for a Leary composition, “You Can Make Me Wait,” and totally tweaks the vision and mindset listeners may have assumed would be upheld throughout the album.
Like the best Butthole Surfers albums, the contrast between “Bride Of Crankenstein” and “You Can Make Me Wait” forces listeners to pay close attention because in the difference is the proof that the whole idea of the album may change on a dime. “Crankenstein” is dark, overdriven and nearly molten in its searing delivery while “You Can Make Me Wait” – with its strikingly clean and polished guitars, so-vocordered-its-unintelligable vocal treatment and spare, tidy rhythm section – is its predecessor’s perfect foil; in one hand these two songs don’t sound like they should be on the same album at all but, on the other hand, the combination of the two songs makes for a tantalizing and outrageous hook. Listeners will be baited to find out how far out into left field Hold It In is capable of going because these first two tracks make a pretty good run for it.
With the first two songs having set strong poles which may play as the extremes for Hold It In, the next thing the A-side does is split the difference with a “sure single” (this definition is contextual), “”Brass Cupcake.” There, all the weirdness that fans KNOW the combination of some members of the Melvins and Butthole Surfers could yield is presented in the most perfectly subversive context. Between a rocky (in a Grand Funk Railroad, classic rock sense, of course) guitar figure and a water-tight rhythm section, Buzz Osborne splits his vocal performance between singing pretty in a poppy way and yowling as his voice pans hard from the left to right channel. It’s exactly the sort of thing the Surfers used to do and works so well because it’s been so damned long since anyone heard anything like it – longtime fans of both bands will be held in awe.
“Brass Cupcake” will have fans locked certainly – and really absorbing everything Hold It In has offered so far – but “Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit” ups the stakes by adding a tab of acid-touched atmospherics to the mix before casting the proceedings down into a fantastically bad trip with “Onions Make The Milk Taste Bad.” Both of these tracks are the most unlikely of captivating numbers; in the case of “Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit” discards the previously very tight structures which appeared through the early playing of Hold It In and meanders menacingly through a number of dark, jagged alleyways without losing sight of where it’s actually headed, while “Onions Make The Milk Taste Bad” presents a ratcheted-tight but sludgy, manic and grungy exposition similar to that which the Butthole Surfers did in their prime (think Hairway To Steven, Rembrandt Pussyhorse and Independent Worm Saloon, and you’re on the right track). In both cases, Osbourne’s vocal is at its offbeat or operatic best and Crover’s drumming nails a swooping, dramatic pattern and, when it all comes together, the result is a rusty chime which is mean, vicious and sterling all at once – not an atonal thud. Here, Leary and Osbourne’s guitars mesh and make a sound which owes to both players’ “other bands,” but also presents as a new and altogether fresh entity too; it would be impossible to call the sound “unmistakably Melvins” nor is it “paint-by-numbers Butthole Surfers” – it owes to both but is identical to neither. Because of that, “Onions Make The Milk Taste Bad” is a perfect closer for the A-side of Hold It In. The song is provocative and will have listeners scrambling to flip the record over to see what comes next.
The provocative vibe of “Onions Make The Milk Taste Bad” gets picked up as though it never paused as “Sesame Street Meat” picks up where the acid-y, hallucinogenic parts the last A-side track left off. The dark and molten progressions endure hear, but are galvanized too which causes “Sesame Street Meat” to reach a bit beyond where the A-side left off. Here, Pinkus’ overdriven bass figure seethes furiously and will quickly have the little hairs standing at attention on listeners’ necks before receding as if to say, “You’ve been warned” before following through on that threat with “Nine Yards,” unequivocably the surprise jewel of this set that no one will see coming.
The above is not an overstatement readers, “Nine Yards” really does blindside listeners in the best imaginable way. Pulses will immediately begin to race as the Melvins begin flying through some of the fastest, leanest changes that anyone in this current lineup of the band has committed to tape in years (if not ever), and Leary and Pinkus get punkier than they’ve been in almost three decades. The guitars scream out fast and dangerously, and Osbourne’s vocal sounds shockingly spry as he spits through every lyrical stanza while backed closely by a tight and wild rhythm section, and listeners will find they’re spun senseless when the track crashes down in just less than two and a half minutes. Without meaning to overstate the point, the experience of “Nine Yards” is astounding; the power, speed and energy is of a caliber that no one could have expected. While the play of both the A-side as well as all the songs which ran before it on the B-side of Hold It In is captivating, “Nine Yards” stands out as the song which shows that while all the members of this incarnation of the Melvins have more chops than they know what to do with, sometimes getting back to basics is the best idea, and these players prove they’re brave enough to do it here.
After “Nine Yards” leaves listeners gasping for air as it does, the energy doesn’t fade after the song lets out. Immediately following the rush, Leary takes the reigns again and leads listeners out to a thoroughly abstract ponderosa for “I Get Along” and scampers through some great mock country before all four band members bury their tongues immovably in their cheeks for a very, very Grand Funked workout named “Piss Pisstopherson.” Were the track sequence even slightly different, it might be possible that some of these tracks wouldn’t garner as much positive notice as they do but, here, the energy, potency and intensity is just phenomenal. There’s just no other way to qualify it; the Melvins (and Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus) are reborn on Hold It In, and no one could ask for better. We can ask for more of the band though, and hopefully this incarnation of the Melvins has plans to make more music. Fans will beg for more.