There’s a reason why Roger “Buzz” Osborne is king – or King Buzzo, to be exact. As the guitarist-vocalist-songwriter for the seminal band Melvins, the good King created the sludge sound that Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden copped, commercialized, and turned into vinyl gold. And more experimental, metal-minded bands like Tool, Boris, Mastodon, Neurosis, and Isis are also denizens of Buzzo’s kingdom.
The above-mentioned bands must have internalized every Melvins release that they could get their finger-callused hands on, so much do they owe to Buzzo. The influence is that obvious – just as it’s obvious that you yourself need to internalize every Melvins full-length from 1987’s Gluey Porch Treatments to 1996’s Stag. These records are essential listens for anybody interested in the origin and development of grunge, doom metal, sludge metal, drone metal – well, for anyone fascinated by experimental noise music.
1992’s Lysol and 1993’s Houdini are still the King’s finest moments and the best place for a Melvins’ newbie to start. Recorded at the height of grunge, these records make contemporary recordings by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains sound safe in comparison – the kind of stuff to which your teen-spirited mother would listen when she felt so much empathy for Jeremy that she still wanted to be alive or wanted to wallow in dirt.
Please excuse what probably reads like a commercial endorsement for Melvins’ past triumphs, but said endorsement is necessary for you to understand what makes the band’s new album of covers (which is positively ridden with cool guest artists; Buzz sings lead on only a handful of the songs) – the awesomely titled Everybody Loves Sausages – so essential.
The essentiality of Sausages comes from the fact that Melvins don’t waste their time and yours by covering tunes that you’d expect them to play. If you know Buzzo’s sonic inspirations and Melvins’ sound, you’d expect a platter of Black Flag, Flipper, Swans, KISS, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath.
Well, you’d be just as wrong in your expectation as I was when I looked at the track list of Sausages. Check out this diverse crew of artists whose tunes Melvins make into sausages – Venom, Queen, Ram Jam, The Scientists, David Bowie, The Kinks, Divine (!), The Fugs, Pop-O-Pies, Roxy Music, Tales of Terror, The Jam, and Throbbing Gristle (!!).
I’ll just guide you through a few of these songs because most of the fun of delving into a covers record is the surprise that you feel when you hear how a favorite band takes on a favorite song by another favorite artist.
A parentheses-less parenthetical digression: I still remember laughing out loud when I heard R.E.M.’s drunken cover of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” on Dead Letter Office. Let’s just say that Michael Stipe really wanted to croon the tune and didn’t seem to care that Peter Buck didn’t know the chord progression. Mike Mills had to call out the chord changes, and Buck somehow seemed surprised and nonplussed at the same time when Stipe called out for the guitar solo that he somehow managed to play. As Stipe says to Buck, “Take it, Slim!”
For reasons known only to the King, Melvins have retitled John Deacon’s classic Queen hit “You’re My Best Friend” “Best Friend.” The A Night at the Opera hit comes second on Sausages, and it sounds like the guys had a lot of fun performing this track, which is pretty much the polar opposite of their aesthetic. Guest Caleb Benjamin sings the lead vocal in a high register that recalls Freddie Mercury’s original recording of the song, and Buzzo, drummer Dale Crover, and bassist Jared Warren provide harmonies that aren’t as seamless as the famous Mercury-May-Taylor blend but sound pretty good.
But the most rad thing about “Best Friend” has to be Toshi Kasai’s keyboard work. Kasai doesn’t even attempt to duplicate Deacon’s original Fender Rhodes performance; rather, he makes the song his own by creating keyboard lines that sound like Tinker Toys rattling together. And Buzzo does some per-usual noisy awesomeness on guitar.
“Station to Station” – the title track of David Bowie’s 1976 masterpiece – runs 10:14 in its original incarnation. Melvins stretch Bowie’s song out to an even longer 11:21. You’ll be glad they did. King Buzzo transforms the tune from futuristic disco into a sludgy and noisy riff fest, and guest vocalist – experimental musician J.G. Thirlwell – handles the tough melody with a raw punk attitude. It’s good that Thirlwell sings because Buzz, with his bushy bouffant and bulgy body, could never pretend to be the Thin White Duke of whom Bowie writes.
You don’t exactly think “Roxy Music” when you think “Melvins.” But you will after you hear Melvins take on Roxy’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” from their second album, 1973’s For Your Pleasure. Brian Ferry’s original song is an art rock classic, dominated by prog keyboards and saxophones, Brian Eno’s oblique noises, and Ferry’s inimitable vocals. And did I mention that the song is about the narrator’s S&M relationship with a humanized inflatable doll?
Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra sings “Heartache” with Melvins, sounding positively sinister. The backing track is minimal, with Buzz backing Jello with a surprising Stylophone performance. Melvins – as is their wont – break the tension with an adventurous noise guitar solo, courtesy of Buzz, which Biafra accompanies with some evil cackles. Buzz makes so many neat noises that he’s sort of like Eno hiding his baldness with a bushy wig.
Ah, Throbbing Gristle! Who knew that the good King admires the industrial mavericks as much as I do! Buzz loves Genesis and the other Gristles so much that he concludes Sausages with a cover of their “Heathen Earth,” on which he performs all the instruments himself. As all good Gristle fans know, no performance of a Gristle song ever sounds the same – so Buzz has no problem making the song his own, maybe without the benefit of founding TG member Chris Carter’s Gristelizer audio effects unit!
You owe yourself a good time. Hang out with Melvins, listen to their Sausages, and be surprised by all the fun stuff that lies therein.