The concept of an album released under the moniker Melvins Lite seems like an oxymoron; considering Freak Puke, the album that came out of that proposition, it would seem that the Melvins are in on the joke. While drummer Dale Crover brushes his kit on some tracks and Trevor Dunn (off Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, and sundry other avant-garde projects) joins in on upright bass on the disc, these are the only reasons for the word Lite to be attached to the project. Despite those instrumental choices, the album is another solid headrush of epic, riffy rock from the elder statesmen.
Opening track “Mr. Rip Off” signals the minor difference perfectly: Dunn’s bowed bass opens the track over eerie, clattering percussion and metallic squeals. When Crover’s drums and vocalist/guitarist Buzz Osborne contribute to the mix, though, the thing sounds like an MTV Unplugged take on some lost bit of dark-tinged classic rock. The palette may be different, but the endgame is the same. The trio’s take on the Paul McCartney and Wings tune “Let Me Roll It” is a roughed up yet faithful one, Osborne’s howling guitar and cult leader croon leading the way. The feedback outro is the big change, but the track works without it as well.
Whether it’s tacking on a squeaky string noise intro to “Baby, Won’t You Weird Me Out” or Crover using a light hand on the kit on the title track, these songs are Melvins songs adapted for a changed sound, rather than a new style of writing altogether. If mixed differently with an electric bass, songs like the rough-riding “Leon vs. the Revolution” or the sludgy “A Growing Disgust” could have passed on any other Melvins album. As they stand, this is a batch of tunes that are an interesting way to have their buddy Dunn show up and try something new.
When any band has been around as long and produced as much skull-crushingly good music as Crover and Osborne have, they get a free pass for this sort of side-project experimentalism. That said, they’re too good to have that experiment fail, and Freak Puke can sit proudly in the Melvins canon.
Essential Tracks: “A Growing Disgust” and “Leon vs. The Revolution”