Melvins don’t care. Melvins have never cared. Melvins don’t care so much that somehow they were the secret nexus of force behind what essentially saved popular music in the early 90’s and almost nobody knows it. They spun off Mudhoney. They introduced the fetuses of Cobain and Novoselic to the embryo of Dave Grohl. And Melvins don’t care about that. Any of it. For a short while, due to the incredible groundswell of interest in legitimately independent, honestly alternative heavy punk-spawned sludge rock (let us agree to eschew use of the “g word” no matter how unwieldy the resulting descriptions become) following the explosion of Nirvana’s Nevermind, they could have probably become a household name. They got a major label (Atlantic) to sign them. They were quickly dropped after three albums. Their inability to give a shit led them to cutting all of their songs from 1999’s masterpiece The Maggot into two tracks to confound the CD-based programming of rock radio at the time. And even though their lineup changed regularly, leaving founding guitarist/vocalist/non-fuckgiver Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne as the one truly constant member, it has been that spirit of indifference to the outside musical world and desire to simply make music they like the way they like to make it that has provided the band their incredible longevity.
That spirit can also lead a band to decide they don’t need to push themselves and, thirty years into Melvins, it seems safe to say that’s what we’re dealing with. On Hold It In, the band’s (roughly) 17th LP, they’re mostly playing the same kinds of things they have in the past, which isn’t creatively great, but the stuff from their past that is being mined is some of their best stuff, and that is pretty great. “Bride of Crankenstein” is the leadoff and it’s vintage Melvins: swaggering and mega-heavy with some fun thrash-era harmonic flourishes in the chorus to provide the base for Buzzo’s standard lyricyelling. Many of the tracks on this album follow a rough approximation of this formula, including its best song “Onions Make the Milk Taste Bad” and easy frontrunner for Best Song Title Ever “Piss Pisstopherson”.
Not looking to pursue wholesale musical reinvention also doesn’t necessarily mean a band has become creatively inert. A bunch of veteran weirdoes are more than capable of delivering surprises and Hold It In does feature a few of those. “You Can Make Me Wait” is only the second track and it’s almost astounding how weird it is that it isn’t really particularly weird. It’s a sweet, sing-songy power-poppy kind of track with strange, digitally modified vocals so fuzzed out they’re almost incomprehensible (very likely, this is the point; a wry statement on music that sounds like this, perhaps). “Eyes on You” substitutes bouncy jangly pop guitars and sing-along vibe in place of the standard Melvins chug, and late offering “I Get Along (Hollow Moon)” toes the line of rockabilly bar swagger.
As always there are several self-indulgent tracks of improvisational grinding and noiseturbation (trademarking that), but those sorts of cuts are part of what completes a Melvins album. While tracks like “Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit” are inessential (read: annoying) listening, one gets the sense they’re listening to Buzzo and the boys stirring the cauldron that makes the potion. And ultimately, Hold It In is a pretty powerful potion. It’s not going to convert any non-fans, but it keeps those of us with fond memories of Houdini and Hostile Ambient Takeover well satisfied until the next go-round, and that’s all Melvins have ever really seemed to be going for anyway. Not that they care.