The lilting strum of a soft-toned acoustic guitar breaks the pregnant hush as a beautifully soulful bird-like cooing voice ascends the scales, running the gamut of musical notes available to the human larynx, accompanied by the gentle tap-tap-shake of a tambourine that………….BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA, I’m sorry, I can’t keep it up. Ohhh….
This is a recording by Buzz Osborne, AKA King Buzzo, head honcho and grand wazoo of the marvellous Melvins, a band universally known for their sheer bloody-mindedness, so what the hell made you think that using an acoustic guitar and having a distinct lessening of amplification would make one iota of difference to his music??
Of course you’ll find no hippy-dippy Donovan schtick here, or any earnest Billy Bragg. Woody Guthrie-lite bleeding-heart sloganeering, just 100% pure unadulterated Buzz Osborne, only minus the distorted amplitude, bass guitar and, most notably, the percussive hammer of long-time cohort in crime Dale Crover.
Shorn of everything bar the sound of the bare guitar and Osborne’s unmistakeable vocal, This Machine Kills Artists is testament to his strength as a songwriter and as a truly unique voice – nobody does it like Buzzo, either plugged or unplugged. From the outset, as soon as Dark Brown Teeth kicks proceedings off, you know damn well who you’re hearing. It’s all there, just in a slightly altered, stripped bare, even, form.
To these ears, well-conditioned to Osborne’s music over far more years than I’d care to mention, the most obvious hook to hang the tunes on would be the almighty 1994 Melvins album Stoner Witch – one of my personal favourites. The ZZ Top-ified rhythmic snap of bona-fide classics such as Revolve and Queen is in full evidence here, running right the way through from the slightly baroque sensibilities of Dark Brown Teeth right through to darkly complex closing number The Hesitation Twist. Throw in some of that trad-style Americana found in Roadbull and you have a pretty damn good blueprint for the majority of the tunes here. Osborne’s instantly recognisable vocal styling’s and patented delivery too sit firmly in that Stoner Witch groove, and, believe me, I am not complaining.
There’s nothing but meat on these bones and absolutely no fucking around. All seventeen songs are pointedly short and to the point, wrought from gnarled, occasionally labyrinthine, strumming emboldened by stripped bare baroque flourishes and that voice, that indescribable voice. Occasional studio production tricks are employed to add texture to the music, to move it further away or closer, and percussive elements are employed simply by banging on the body of the guitar, but otherwise, that’s all there is – guitar, vocals, hair.
Actually, listening to tracks like The Spoiled Brat and Vaulting Over A Microphone, it becomes very apparent exactly how much Pete Townshend has seeped into Osborne’s music and playing – there’s a beautiful economy to his rhythm playing and twisted melodies woven tightly into those rhythms, like the miniature pop-art violent symphonies he tried to make with The Who, explosions of tightly coiled, compacted art.
Also present are the pithy, sardonic songtitles that have become a staple of Melvins albums – The Vulgar Joke, How I Became Offensive, The Spoiled Brat, Good And Hostile and my favourites The Blithering Idiot and Useless King Of The Punks. Do I know what they’re ‘about’? No. Can I glean anything from Osborne’s abstract word-soup lyrical content? Nope. Does it affect my enjoyment of this record, or any other he’s written? Not one iota – I like the mystery, I was almost disappointed to find out that solid-gold sinister classic Boris is about his cat!
Now, I’m not going to play favourites and single out any particular highlights because, well, this entire recording is a highlight. Honestly, it’s a gem and the man should be very proud of what he’s done. Who the fuck else could make a non-self-indulgent acoustic solo album that still manages to maintain 100% of the identity and the integrity of the musician who made it?
Of late I’ve found the general Melvins output more miss than hit, but between the Melvins 2013 album Tres Cabrones and this, they’ve more than made up for the somewhat lacking straight-up Melvins material that made up the last run of albums with the Big Business boys as a rhythm section. Sure it works GRRRRRRRRRRRRREAT live, but recorded? Eh, not so much. Sorry.
So, yeah, you could say I’m excited to hear this here recording of pure, prime grade-A King Buzzo. Hell, I’m cock-a-hoop about it!
Scribed by: Paul Robertson