A Senile Animal
We are in a phase of Artistic Endeavor where we want to make things full. Like most contemporary impulses, I blame this squarely on the service economy. The consumer experience is engineered to be all-encompassing; a replacement for the religious rigor that once occupied most of the thinking of the servant classes. We don't need products; we need needs met, transparently and completely. I think it says much that the current spate of men's magazines is virtually indistinguishable from the traditional shopping patter of that of the fairer sex, and maybe its always been that way and I'm now entering the demographic those magazines target, but that its all about acquisition. I remember beer commercials from my youth wisely spent watching TV, not investment firms and employment agencies, engaging one to carve out their niche in the corporate cliff wall to the full sounds of Supertramp and ELO. In my youth, diversion was flimsy and disposable, now it seems that our lives are meant to be like a short story included in Harper's allowing us our voice as long as it wedges nicely into the greater narrative, our own existence serving as sawdust in the mix, making it taste fuller.
Fortunately, we have the Melvins. It's understatement to say the Melvins are anti-consumer, since I get the feeling that the Melvins are anti-everything. Not in a negative, cartoon Metal variety (though they have that patina about them) but just on a base level. I almost picture The Melvins subsisting on weed and vermin, waking in the morning and only finding their various whims captured to tape by happenstance. But the whole notion of this fake fullness we experience or try to experience came to me when I noticed how hollow their latest A Senile Animal sounds. There is a brittle-ness to it that is like the first time you experience the cold wind of existentialism, that blunt denial of the rich fat waxed fruit of life and the joy of embracing of the carcass.
The record opens with "The Talking Horse" pounding away like a battering ram like the Melvins are wont to do, but with an almost operatic version of their wind-howl chant. The song cycles from one killer riff to the next until coming to the kind of halt experienced when walking into an unexpected door. "Blood Witch" is more classic Melvins, chugging like a wood chipper running in fumes with Buzz and the boys channeling their best Bruce Dickinson, then the apparatus kicks into gear and starts grinding that stump into mulch. The trick to the Melvins, is that they are conveying malevolence and disdain without pandering to it. I get a lot of metal in the mail, and while it all bears some hallmark o dissatisfaction, its usually a thick stew of bass eclipse with a wall of guitars and Gatling gun of drums and some alpha-male idiot in a backwards cap shouting. It's like Limp Bizkit actually happened, and I didn't dream it after some bad Indian food.
The Melvins know that we are all shells, husks filled with nothing but dust floating in our air, walking pi?±atas waiting for just the right stick-wielding child to whack us into paper Mache scraps. Our exterior is garish and intimidating, and the Melvins play this to the hilt. At times I think the Melvins are the greatest rock band in the world, because they recognize that being so is pointless. The rest of the album cycles through goat-footed thrash rock on "Rat Faced" and "The Hawk," spinning insouciantly like a dust devil of cigarette butts and plastic bags in an empty parking lot. And in all of this nihilism, there is something warm and reassuring about this music. Like that empty feeling is OK, is normal, and can even be a source of power. Like if there is nothing inside, nothing can really hurt you. As I look up on the player, I see that "You've Never Been Right" is plowing away as I pen this drivel, underscoring that my words and thoughts are just as hollow as my tangibles. I never felt so good about feeling bad before.
(Alex V. Cook's book of rocknroll observations, 'Darkness, Racket and Twang' is available now from the SideCartel)
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com