True to its title, Basses Loaded is, well, loaded with bassists — six to be exact: Jeff Pinkus, Trevor Dunn, Jared Warren, Dale Crover, Steve McDonald, and Krist Novoselic. Don’t let your jaw drop to the floor just yet though; the concept isn’t as crazy as it sounds. The first four players have all served as rotating members of The Melvins’ low end, and the last two are longtime associates of the band. Even though all six musicians have their own subtle differences in playing styles, it’s doubtful you’ll pick up on these distinctions during a cursory listen of Basses Loaded.
For instance, McDonald peppers opener “The Decay of Living” with punctuated slides up to the higher part of the neck, but is that enough to distinguish it from Pinkus’ more root-noted picking on “Captain Come Down”? Probably not — at least not to the untrained ear. It’s important to remember that each bassist was asked to play with The Melvins because they’d be a good fit for The Melvins. They already have to be somewhat chameleonic, able to move from primordial sludge (“Beer Hippie”) to a fairly faithful — if rough-around-the-edges — Beatles cover (“I Want to Tell You”) to a sea-shanty take on a children’s novelty song (“Shaving Cream”), all in just 45 minutes. Divide that among six people, and it would be jarring if someone as instantly recognizable as Les Claypool, Victor Wooten, or Carol Kaye popped up on the roster.
So as far as Melvins experiments go, Basses Loaded is fairly tame in its conceit when compared to a wilder album like the drone- and electronica-heavy Honky or the creaky Freak Puke, where Dunn made his first studio appearance with the band on standup bass. Tellingly, it’s “Planet Destructo” — his sole contribution to Basses Loaded — that stands out, if only for its jazzier Melvins Lite climax. Starting out as a standard piece of lumber-lugging stoner rock, the distortion eventually fades out for one of his lengthy improvisations. Suddenly, you realize that his standup has been bubbling underneath the surface the entire time, even when the volume was cranked way up. It’s not a lounge act by way of stoner rock; it’s a lounge act dressed up as stoner rock, the one time on the record that a song’s identity hinges almost exclusively on the bassist. Most of the other tunes would probably still sound the same if just one guy had played on all of them.
Fortunately, the songs themselves are among the Melvins’ most solid work in a few years. Buzz Osborne stays full-throated enough on “Hideous Woman” that the weirdness of the lyrics never undercuts his shoutable boogie, and the accordion on “Maybe I Am Amused” is the sort of musical choice that elevates filler to admirably deliberate filler. That applies tenfold to the closing cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. Evolving from a tinny MIDI file to a slur-along chant in the bleachers, it’s almost aggressive in its disposability, apparently existing just so it can tie back to Basses Loaded‘s punny title. The irony, of course, is that like most of the best material on the album, its strengths have little at all to do with any kind of virtuosity on the bass guitar — just the whacked-out sense of humor that makes for a good, if standard, Melvins album.
Essential Tracks: “Hideous Woman”, Planet Destructo”, and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”