Despite having played a vital role in the creative misadventures of Melvins for over thirty years, ‘The Fickle Finger Of Fate’ is, perhaps surprisingly, Dale Crover’s first substantial solo release. Although the preceding two and a half decades or so have seen the odd solo experiment surface, Crover’s latest marks his first full blown solo LP. It’s an unsurprisingly adventurous album and one that finds Crover in often inquisitive form, experimenting with oblique instrumentation and complex rhythmic flourishes in a record that frequently feels more like a surrealist collage than a collection of conventional songs.
Indeed, even by the standards of someone who’s helmed numerous noise-drenched Melvins freakouts, ‘The Fickle Finger Of Fate’ is a noticeably abstract listen. It’s not that musically this is especially uncompromising by Crover’s own remarkable standards but, from a structural perspective, the album is undeniably bizarre. The fact that it consists of 20 pieces spread over some 34 minutes should be enough to suggest that song structuring is anything but traditional; despite this when Crover does drift into more song-based territory, he reveals a striking ear for immediate, poppy songcraft that he hasn’t exactly kept a secret in Melvins – they’ve had their fair share of catchy tracks – but that’s certainly more obvious here than it has been in most of his previous projects.
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While such moments do offer some easily graspable, concrete sonics, it’s the ephemeral, fleeting songs which intersperse such moments that make ‘The Fickle Finger Of Fate’ a distinctly curious album. Although famed as a drummer, here Crover proves himself a great multi-instrumentalist, playing the lion’s share of everything heard on the album. Impressive as that is; once a drummer always a drummer and almost all of the record’s short, more experimental tracks are based – sometimes solely – around stick work and rhythmicality.
While solo drumming can be an absolute joy, it can, too, be a challenge to keep listener engagement high without some form of melodic counterpoint. Whilst much of the drumming here is warped into something so riotously unique and entertaining that it scarce needs overdubs, when Crover does present something coming close to straight-up solo drumming, the results are both fascinating and to the point – the album’s shorter pieces often barely scrape half a minute. Although Crover largely keeps experimentation short and sweet (the sum of the album’s more left-field moments only total about 10 minutes), with the gurgling atmospherics and murky sonics of ‘There Goes The Neighborhood’ he allows himself a little longer to explore at a comparatively lengthy three minutes and the results are wholly intriguing.
Although Crover’s rhythmic experiments have a charm of their own, it’s undoubtedly the album’s song-based material that shines brightest here. There’s certainly nothing traditional about these songs; but those taken in by the sinister, creeping momentum and colourful outbursts of Melvins will certainly be right at home here. ‘Bad Move’ is a gem of chunky, propulsive bass and superbly understated guitar. The flowingly melodic yet singularly strange title track is a masterclass in outsider songwriting, not fitting into any style but nevertheless producing an almost shockingly memorable and moreish tune. Everything here is played with the subversive strangeness that long-term fans have come to expect from Crover; even on the relatively relaxed title track, drums are covered in a thick layer of fuzz – a seemingly incongruous choice that works perversely well and embellishes the song no end. Even when Crover veers towards the more hard hitting territory he’s most readily associated with, the results are far too oddball to approach anything like a convention heavy rock song and they’re all the better for it.
Despite the album’s fervent disregard for convention and remarkably idiosyncratic streak, ‘The Fickle Finger Of Fate’ ultimately finds Dale Crover mining a defiantly singular vein of odd pop music. It may well be a weird record but that’s a very good thing and it gives the album truck-loads of character; underneath it all, though, is an album with a love of immediacy and hooks and it shows. ‘The Fickle Finger OF Fate’ is a compellingly off-beat, individualist album and a treat for those with an open mind and adventurous ears.