Melvins- Houdini (1993): (83%)
Kurt Cobain’s name is sprinkled throughout the credits of Houdini even though King Buzzo said he was more of a screw-up in the studio, who was eventually fired. That got me wondering why it was so funny. Then I had the moment of realization: irony. It too is sprinkled throughout the album, but nothing in comparison to the irony of getting your radio-unfriendly band signed to a prominent label by one of the most influential people in 1992 who happens to be your friend. In the Melvins’ half-hearted attempt to sound commercial-friendly and accessible, they end up making their best record.
Perhaps the lyrics could also be to blame. Because if people are going to listen to a 55-minute album, they should have received some sort of message; something they would have wanted to resound throughout their entire career. Well…it does. The nonsensical lyrics to “Hooch” are typed black and bold on an ironic background to ironic artwork that surrounds the album. They are as follows, “Los ticka toe rest. Might likea sender doe ree. Your make a doll a ray day sender bright like a penelty.” While they kinda, sorta, maybe rhyme, just a little bit, they are otherwise complete gibberish. And you know what else is ironic? In lyriscism, Kurt Cobain and King Buzzo are pretty much the same, except Kurt tried harder and only rarely used gibberish, but they are very alike nonetheless (Note: In Utero did have significant meaning). Lyrics written with such utter nonsense would only be peculiar if the band was doing this now that they were signed with a label to intentionally piss them off. But this is an aspect to the Melvins that has been carried throughout their career. Either way, the finished product must have pissed off somebody as their was little to no promotion for it. I guess mainstream just isn’t ready for the Melvins.
But anyone who can listen with an open mind will recognize it for what it is, and eventually end up liking it. The singing is more or less another noise in the throbbing, pulsating, acidic, viscous oil, pumping, thudding collage that roars through Houdini. This is grunge, but slower and harsher. Kinda like Rum. But Rum with the consistency of pancake batter. woooooo yeah, imagine hearing that coming through your speakers.
To no one who has even heard the Melvins, upon the first minute they’d probably correctly guess that this is sludge metal, or at the very least say, “slow metal.” If someone can handle the sea sickening metal the album scrapes out, then they’re on the golden path to liking Houdini. Okay, maybe the album in comparison to their other works actually does sound commercial, but anybody who can like anything at first taste, would say this was their best work.
Arguably, it is. While the sludge sounds continue for what seems like a while ends up being 3 or 4 minutes, sometimes the sludge sound can bring out some part of you that likes menace. One of those “bad mood” albums. But really though, the Melvins just want us all to bounce along with them as they crank out the noise in a live show. Buzzo also said that he prefers the live album to the studio version, but it doesn’t mean Houdini was doomed to never being liked, it just meant that it is an underdog in an otherwise uncommon genre. The first 4 tracks seem to run on too long, but they are worth listening to so the momentum of the power can lead to a maniacal hell raiser like “Honey Bucket.” Then back down again with one of the most representative sludge songs in its genre. From there on, it’s a roller coaster of uppers and downers until the anticlimactic meltdown of “Spread Eagle Beagle.” A bunch of geeks, one including Kurt Cobain, turned loose on percussion equipment…for ten minutes. Well, I guess if they were going to go out on their first big-label production, they are going to do it on their terms, and no one else’s.
You have to give them props: in their attempt to remain outlandish, yet modest, they created their most likable album. Since its release, it has maintained a cult following that keeps a good amount of fans on hand for a show to this day. Even though Buzzo kind of shrugs it off, maybe he was afraid of it becoming popular in one way or another. No matter how commercial it may seem to the Melvins, the average Top 40 listener back in ’93 who was partial to metal probably would have turned this down. Yet, like I said, anyone who can tolerate an acquired taste album will respect it all the same. Contradictory, I know, but it makes sense in my head. Maybe when my editor reads this, he’ll make me change it. Point being, give it a shot, or two, or three….or four…hell, do the whole thing. It’s good for ya!
Overall Impression: 8/10