Brokers always say that it's time to get out of the market when strangers begin offering stock tips--when everyone and their mother is talking about IBM, AT&T;, and Boeing, it's time to sell. About ten months ago, everyone and my mother began talking about "grunge." My mom asked if I wanted to order some "grungy-style" flannel plaid shirts from LL Cool Bean, and fashion designer Donna Karan came out with a line of grunge wear so that Upper West Siders could look as liberal as they feel. It was time to sell.
By now everyone knows the genealogy of grunge: the Stooges and Black Sabbath got married (Iggy Pop has always been somewhat of a traditionalist) and had Seattle. The superhip blame grunge on MC5, the New York Dolls and, of course, The Velvet Underground. I would add old-style metal bands like Kiss and Dio to the list of grunge predecessors, but hey, that's just me.
Most everyone can agree that one of the first bands from the Pacific Northwest which made the kinds of songs associated with grunge--slow churning, soiled with feedback and riff-laden--was Melvins (not "The Melvins," but simply "Melvins"). Melvins have been around since 1984. Along the way, the band has gone through many line-up changes and has released albums as mediocore as Ozma and as flat-out irritating as Bullhead. Obviously I'm not a fan. But in fairness to Melvins followers (who call themselves not "Melvins Army," but "The Melvins Army"), I don't really like Black Sabbath much either. However, I suspect that even a grunge music afficianado would find Melvins' new release, Houdini, inescapably trite and monotonous.
The problem is apparent from the album's first song, "Hooch." The song opens with the smashing of a cymbal and a big riff. Soon enough, King Buzzo is growling lyrics as if he were constipated, or at least concentrating a bit too intently. Before "Hooch" is over, every grunge button discovered years ago by Mudhoney has been pushed, and pushed badly.
It's tempting to give Melvins the benefit of the doubt, to assume that their new album is a parody of grunge as a marketing tool, a parody of Donna Karan and mail-order flannels. But there is something so damned earnest about Buzzo's lame guitar solos on "Set Me Straight," and something so ridiculously self-important about the clunky tempo changes of "Lizzy" that it's hard to give Houdini the benefit of the doubt, let alone the benefit of a second listen. And while Houdini does have one redeeming virtue--namely, "Honey Bucket," a song built around a tight riff and insistent drumwork--the album has little to offer except tired and huddled masses of guitar cliches.