Despite a title that might suggest the album to be a Butthole Surfers tribute record, 'Pinkus Abortion Technician' is largely business as usual for Melvins; it's eclectic, heavy and, at times, utterly heady
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The title of Melvins’ 27th long player over the last 30-odd years is something of an anomaly. Anyone familiar with the album’s dual namesakes – Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus and his band’s 1987 album ‘Locust Abortion Technician’ – would be forgiven for taking King Buzzo and co’s latest long player to be something of a tribute to the album from which it borrows most of its name. In some regards, it is; the record is bookended with Butthole Surfers covers – an eccentric medley of ‘Moving To Florida’ and James Gang’s ‘Stop’ opens the album in sprightly, light-hearted form and a comparatively straight rendition of ‘Graveyard’ – a key track from the album’s aforementioned namesake – rounds proceedings off. Other than Pinkus’ involvement with the whole of the album, however, that’s where the Butthole Surfers parallels stop. Indeed, ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’ is, quintessentially and unmistakably, a Melvins record through and through.
Anyone familiar with the long-running experimental rock band’s output over the past decade or so will likely recognise the tell-tale signs of a modern Melvins album within the first few tracks. Where the band’s earlier output – especially their work during the bulk of the ’90s – focused on pushing boundaries to often uncompromising extremes, the group’s contemporary work often finds them in more comfortable surroundings. Whilst the second disc of last year’s double album extravaganza ‘A Walk With Love And Death’ did find the band pushing their trademark abstraction to surprising new degrees even by their own standards, the band’s modus operandi over the past decade or so generally seems to have them less focused on pushing boundaries and more interested in simply getting in the studio and having a good time.
That, of course, needn’t be a bad thing – and by and large it’s not. ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’ is certainly easy listening compared to some of the group’s more abrasive experiments but it still delivers more sludgy, de-tuned riffs over its 37 minute runtime than most ostensibly heavier bands can manage in twice that amount of time. The songs themselves display the group’s typically broad array of interests; the surrealistic sense of humour found on so many of the band’s albums is present and correct with songs such as ‘Prenup Butter’, ‘Flamboyant Duck’ and a strident, spring-heeled hard rock interpretation of The Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. At times ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’ feels very much like a half-loving, half-mocking pastiche of anthemic, mid-tempo hard rock – albeit one retold through the filter of a far more subversive band than the groups that such moments seem to be a send off to. ‘Break Bread’ – with its chugging riff and harmonised, fists-in-the-air refrain – could well have been cut straight from the annals of Kiss or Boston’s back catalogues, if not for a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that such bands never had.
Such moments are entirely entertaining but they do, admittedly, feel rather familiar – such has been common fare on Melvins records for years. More interesting by far are the portions of the album where the band begin to really experiment, both sonically and structurally; ‘Don’t Forget To Breathe’ might well be the highlight of the album and the fact that it also stands as the record’s most deeply layered song is no coincidence. Its near 8 minute runtime gives the track plenty of scope to progress and unfold in a leisurely, organic manner that makes the album’s shorter, more direct rock songs feel a little safe by comparison. ‘Flamboyant Duck’ likewise impresses with the kind of genuinely surprising sonic palette and true sense of imagination that set the group apart in the first place. It’s crafted with a winning combination of banjo, swirling atmospherics and fuzz guitar that really shouldn’t work – at least not on paper. The band pull it off with the sort of seeming ease that would elude most groups audacious enough to even attempt such a blending of instruments. The two songs are tantalising glances of what Melvins have always been – and are still – capable of at their best; inventive without becoming inaccessible, experimental without becoming gratuitous.
The duality between ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’s best material and its least essential is symptomatic of Melvins’ more recent output in general. It would be a disservice to call anything on the album uninteresting and the record remains thoroughly enjoyable throughout but that doesn’t stop it from feeling somewhat inconsistent, as much of the band’s recent output has been. The group make a nod to their ’80s punk peers on ‘Embrace The Rub’ but, as decent as the track is, it lacks the genuine bite of the music it pays homage to, and the same can be said of ‘Break Bread’ which, despite the song’s good-natured humour, doesn’t quite hit home like the best material on the album does. Still, for its small flaws, ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’ finds Melvins in fine form. It’s worthwhile, vivacious stuff from start to finish and, although its strongest moments serve as a keen reminder of the heights the group can scale at their best, even when the band fall short of hitting those kind of soaring high, they can always be relied on to produce entertaining, vibrant work.
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The full track list for ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’ is …
01. Stop Moving To Florida
02. Embrace The Rub
03. Don’t Forget To Breathe
04. Flamboyant Duck
05. Break Bread
06. I Want To Hold Your Hand
07. Prenup Butter
You can see the Melvins at one of the following venues…
Apr. 26 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah Apr. 29 – Dallas, TX @ Tree’s Apr. 30 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk May 01 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall May 03 – Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon May 04 – Birmingham, AL @ Zydeco May 06 – Charlottee, NC @ Visulite Theater May 07 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle May 09 – Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar May 10 – Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts May 11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw May 12 – Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom May 13 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club May 14 – Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre May 18 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop May 19 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theater May 20 – Louisville, KY @ Headliner’s Music Hall May 22 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley May 23 – Memphis, TN @ Hi-Tone May 24 – St. Louis, MO @ The Ready Room May 25 – Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar May 31 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom Jul. 12 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory Jul. 13 – Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour Jul. 14 – Fresno, CA @ Strummer’s Jul. 16 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall Jul. 17 – Sacramento, CA @ Holy Diver Jul. 19 – Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s Jul. 20 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom Jul. 21 – Vancouver, BC @ Venue Nightclub Jul. 24 – Edmonton, AB @ Union Hall Jul. 25 – Calgary, AB @ Marquee Room Jul. 27 – Winnipeg, MB @ Pyramid Cabaret Jul. 28 – Fargo, ND @ The Aquarium (Dempsey’s Upstairs) Jul. 29 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue Jul. 30 – Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon Jul. 31 – Chicago, IL @ Park West Aug. 02 – Grand Rapids, MI @ The Pyramid Scheme Aug. 03 – Detroit, MI @ El Club Aug. 04 – Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar Aug. 05 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue Theatre Aug. 06 – Rock Island, IL @ Rock Island Brewing Company Aug. 07 – Des Moines, IA @ Wooly’s Aug. 08 – Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room Aug. 10 – Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre Aug. 11 – Ft. Collins, CO @ Aggie Theatre Aug. 13 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge Aug. 14 – Las Vegas, NV @ The Bunkhouse Saloon