Sunday, June 06, 2010

Of the Melvins and their lyrics

I must admit that I'm relatively new to Melvins fandom. I saw them at least twice, maybe more, back in the late 80s/early 1990's at the Granville Cruel Elephant, during the early days of grunge (also seeing Tad, Tankhog, Helmet, and many lesser-known bands there - all of this in the pre-Nevermind glory days, before things got blown all out of porportion). I remember the SECOND time I saw them, I was surprised to see that they had a gal bassist - Lorax - which means I guess the first time it might have been Matt Lukin - a pretty early lineup indeed. I loved them live, but their albums, back then, seldom grabbed me; while certain songs were hooky and appealing - "At A Crawl," say - a lot seemed slightly undercooked, interesting ideas that could have been pushed further into epic and arresting songs, but often didn't quite make it that far (that was how I felt back then - I'm not sure I'd agree now, but it's the only opinion I have handy). I didn't pay very close attention to them at all for at least a decade, until I saw them back Jello Biafra in Vancouver a couple of years ago, beginning the set with some epically artful and dramatic numbers of their own. It was really striking; so I picked up Nude With Boots and (A) Senile Animal and suddenly realized that they are one of the smartest, most creative, and balls-out heaviest rock bands currently walking the earth. Investigations into their back catalogue reveal - with 1994's Stoner Witch, say - that the magnificence of the Melvins is not just a recent phenomenon, either; they've been really, really good at what they do for a very long time, while I blissfully ignored them.

Except there's this really annoying thing they do, or rather, since the early 1990's, don't do: they don't offer lyric sheets. There is no "lyrics" section on their website. The fan site does have a lyrics section - but it's all guesswork, with much disagreement between "fan transcribers" and no final word as to who is right. As an example: the discussion for "A History Of Bad Men" (cool live version here) in the section for (A) Senile Animal, has various Melvins listeners taking the "chorus" as "dire/ it's bleeding," or maybe "dire/ it's fleeting," but I've consistently heard it as "Gaia is bleeding" (an interpretation I like a whole lot more, but can't vouch for as being correct; they may well sing "dire," I dunno). Fond as I am of misheard lyrics - mondegreens, soramimi, what-have-you - King Buzzo sings with such an artfully, um, incomprehensible style that I've even heard people conclude that he wasn't singing words at all, just making sounds. I don't think that's so - it's just there's a helluva lotta room for error in trying to decode what he's saying. What was that Nietzsche quote - about how people who write in an aphoristic style don't want to be understood, but learned by heart?

Anyhow, really excited that the Melvins play here in July, and there's a new Melvins album out this week; I'm gearing up to try to help with decoding efforts on the Melvins board, assuming I have the freetime to squander. Or maybe they'll include a lyric sheet with this album?

I somehow doubt it...

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