MUSIC REVIEW | The Melvins – Houdini (1993)


The Mevlins have been kicking around for a long time. Long enough that pre-fame Kurt Cobain was a roadie for the band back in the 80s. In all of that time, The Melvins haven’t changed all that much from what I can tell. And that’s great, because there’s only one Melvins. And no other ban can do what The Melvins do. I’ve seen them live and was blown away. I’ve casually listened to a lot of their albums and had a period of obsessively listening to their 2006 album (A) Senile Animal. But I wanted to go back a little, so I chose Houdini.

The thick sludge of that signature Melvins sound is immediately present. Hooch and Night Goat writhe around, beneath Buzzo’s smothering guitar and Lorax’s distorted, bottom dwelling bass. While Dale’s drumming drags them all through the darkness. It’s that patented Melvins approach and it never disappoints.

Buzzo finds the off button on his distortion pedal for the opening moments of Lizzie and the drop in volume somehow ads to the darkness and dread. The loud guitar and vocal is threatening, but it’s in your face and not trying to hide anything. The quieter guitars and Buzzo’s restrained vocal menace are disconcertingly ambiguous as you wait for the real impact of the song to sneak up on you from some unexpected direction.

Houdini jumps head first into full on metal with Honey Bucket. It’s louder, faster and freer than anything that comes before and it’s a great new dimension that comes at the absolute perfect time. Every other Melvins songs makes it obvious that they have this sort of energy in them, and to hear it uncorked is to hear what it sounds like to have your ass kicked.

That same energy gets an entirely different outlet with Set Me Straight. This is almost glam metal of the highest order. If I was told this was song by Motley Crue or Poison, I’d be surprised that either of those bands could make something this good, but I’d still believe it.

Sky Puppy sounds like a quick improvisation tossed off in the studio while they were warming up to play a real song that had actually been written and rehearsed. And I mean that even more dismissively than it may have read. I guess they can’t all be winners. Luckily it’s quickly followed be a return to sludge with Joan of Arc.

Seeing The Melvins live a few years ago, then listening to an album made more than 20 years ago made me like this band even more. Houdini is exactly what I loved about this band when I saw them live and exactly what I want to hear when I listen to one of their albums. Sure, a cynic could say this is proof that they’ve never grown or evolved as a band. But I like to think it’s evidence that they’ve never had to compromise who they are or what they do.

The Melvins

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