The Bootlicker (Ipecac)

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What are we supposed to do with the Melvins? Dumb question, sure. You listen to them. You rock them. You make that slobbery-mouthed distorted-guitar sound to them. You play air drums to them.

But you sure as hell don't think about them. You'd be wasting precious brain cells that could be better burnt huffing gasoline. Or so the common knowledge goes: The Melvins are heavy; they're a joke-metal band; they (or, more specifically, he -- head Melvin King Buzzo) taught Kurt Cobain how to rock; they are the slowest metal band ever.

All true, but also a huge underestimation of the power and glory of the Melvins, Kings of Rock, cerebellum-bangers, multifaceted tour de force. It goes unrecognized that, starting on their remarkable Stag album, the band has been dabbling with nuance and beauty; that for every drudge in the Melvins' repertoire, there's always been a dash of wimpiness that offers a revealing angle. But they've never completely submitted to their delicate, girly-man side.

The second volume of an, er, trilogy, the first being early '99's The Maggot and the third being the upcoming The Crybaby (and you thought only Master P could bang out three records in a year), The Bootlicker is the closest the Melvins will ever come to making a pop record, even if their version of pop is a far cry from Britney's. King Buzzo, he of the Sideshow Bob haircut, whispers and moans in a way that precludes, of course, radio play, but he sings here rather than tossing off his usual irony-laden, faux-metal bellow. There he is in all his menacing glory, huffing into the mic, forming evil without the aid of screaming. Of course, it's not a Melvins record if Buzzo doesn't get all deep and grunty on us every once in a while, and he does; but this never arrives when it usually does, and even these grunts have some restraint to them.

The Bootlicker is chock-full of jingle bells and piano tinks, synthesizer freakouts and pretty ditties (despite its title, "Up the Dumper" has a poppy melody to die for), intentionally clumsy guitar lines and rolling bass patterns (courtesy of ex-Cows freako Kevin Rutmanis), all combined to create some sort of elusive "concept" (the faint snippet of a live version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" probably has some meaning, but it's hard to say). Five bucks says you can't verbalize the concept, but the Melvins undoubtedly could -- because, despite their lineage, they've got a lot going on upstairs.

The Bootlicker will throw your average Melvinshead for a loop. It's really not that hard. And because of the group's history, none of your indie rockers or Americana hayseeds is going to touch it. That's a shame, because it's one of the best rock albums of the year: truly beautiful and intelligently (but not pretentiously) presented. The Melvins fuckin' rule, even when they're going soft on us.

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