Trying to categorise Melvins is a difficult task. Sludge metal, alternative metal, experimental rock or grunge all fail to properly define the Washington band and what makes them so idiosyncratically brilliant. Descriptions of their aesthetic slip through your fingers just as you think you’ve got a hold on what they’re trying to do. They blend tone, mood and form, utilising reflexivity, fragmentation, parody and irony as only the masters of postmodern pop culture can. They are genuine enigmas, although, as is the true postmodern way, there may be no solution to the fundamental puzzle at their core.
Working With God sees the band performing an act of meta-referencing on themselves, via the inclusion of original drummer Mike Dillard alongside core members Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover, to complete what the group are calling their Melvins 1983 lineup. The trio had previously collaborated on 2013’s Tres Cabrones, an album rife with surrealist humour and fragmented piss-taking that included the Mr. Bungle-esque ‘99 Bottles Of Beer’ and the country knees-up ‘Tie My Pecker To A Tree’. There were moments of riff-driven relative normality, but all in all it was one of Osbourne and Crover’s weirdest flights of fancy. In comparison, Working With God is a much more successful synthesis of Melvins’ love of heavy riffs and bizarre sense of humour, resulting in one of the most purely enjoyable albums of the band’s thirty-eight year career.
Cover tracks open and close the album, both of which are an absolute delight. Opener ‘I Fuck Around’ is genuinely hilarious, a profanity-laden cover of The Beach Boys classic that actually gets funnier the more you hear it. Then closing the album is ‘Good Night Sweetheart’, a cover of the doo-wop song first recorded by The Spaniels in 1954 that is, while obviously massively tongue-in-cheek, somehow kind of sweet, and features very funny baritone “doo-doos”. This penchant for sardonic cover songs goes right back to the band’s early days, so their inclusion on this release is a nice throwback. On the humour front there’s also the usual brilliant song titles (‘Brian, The Horse-Faced Goon’, ‘Fuck You’) and every song contains at least one memorably absurd lyric. However, these wacky tendencies are never taken too far on Working With God, and are instead balanced quite deftly, which makes the album a more engrossing and complete listen than Tres Cabrones or 2018’s tad boring Pinkus Abortion Technician.
Working With God also excels in terms of its heavier and riff-driven songcraft, some of which is right up there with the band’s brilliant work in their 90’s heyday. ‘Bouncing Rick’ is a dark and menacing banger, teeming with energy and a Butthole Surfers-at-their-heaviest sense of momentum, utilising a driving riff, harsh noise and playful structure. ‘Caddy Daddy’ is built around a monster riff and some of Buzz Osbourne’s most commanding vocal work, with a tempo and feel that recalls ‘Goin ’Blind’ from their 1993 classic Houdini. Most enjoyable however is ‘Brian, The Horse Faced Goon’. Featuring a simple but punishingly heavy riff, this groovy, lean track is Melvins at their most charismatic and brilliant.
The band sound especially revitalised on Working With God, especially when compared to the sluggish Pinkus Abortion Technican. There’s a joie de vivre present here that you rarely find from groups on their twenty-ninth studio album. Melvins are a true treasure of a band, a group of working class oddballs with a daft sense of humour that took on the world and influenced seemingly half of the rock and metal bands active today. Working With God is another jewel in their crown, although they probably couldn’t care less about our opinions of it.
Working With God is out now via Ipecac Records.