For his second solo album, Melvins’ singer and guitarist Buzz Osborne aka King Buzzo has enlisted Mr Bungle bass player Trevor Dunn to create an album that feels like an alternate take on American culture and society where the ‘pioneering’ cowboys restricted themselves to mescaline-based activities as opposed to the masculine genocidal bloodlust that still runs through the mythology of Amerikkka today. These are ragged tales, imbued with the open vista imagery of the old West, but with a psychedelic twist that adds a folky charm to the album as a whole.
The nine songs that make up Gift of Sacrifice are largely acoustic, slow tempo tales rather than the stomping, riff-heavy work that we usually associate with Osborne. His voice on “Housing, Luxury, Energy” and “Delayed Clarity” shows a more fragile aspect to his persona rarely seen elsewhere. Meanwhile on the country-tinged “Mock She” he uses that larger-than-life absurd vocal style that has become his signature over a hesitant bass and acoustic guitar, and it sounds like a latter-day Pavement demo.
Where Gift of Sacrifice really succeeds is in its forays away from tracks that eschew the standard song structure. “Junkie Jesus”, “Mental Vomit” and “Acoustic Junkie” all explore sonic palettes and textures that veer into avant-noise, yet all three songs are frustratingly short. Their inclusion on the album for some will no doubt feel like pure filler when in fact their placement on the record – opener, halfway and album closer – is telling, and suggests a curtain being pulled back to reveal the intricate yet insular moments that the album has to offer.
As good as Gift of Sacrifice is in places, there remains a shadow looming over its release. Recently, on social media, a spotlight has been placed on footage from two years ago of Osborne talking to right wing dirtbag and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes that fully highlighted his political stance. The conversation featured derision of the need for diversity in films and talked about “liberal weirdo lesbians.” In previous interviews he has made the oft-cited and always ridiculous claim that the “Nazis were socialist” (I mean, come armed with something a little more, you know, INTELLIGENT, please!). In short, he has shown himself to understand nothing of the world except his own sense of entitlement and arrogance. A total shame. I’m sure many will argue in his defence that most of the invective phrasing came from McInnes, but if you fail to stand up to oppression then you stand with it, knowingly or otherwise.
How then can the listener engage with a work of art when the views expressed outside of the work by the artist are so…what’s the word…ridiculous? Answer: with some degree of difficulty. However, to entirely ‘cancel’ an artist, to sever all connections that exist between creator and consumer, often seems a knee-jerk rather than a well-considered approach. Having different views, however pugnacious and idiotic they may be, is not a crime yet there can also be no excusing such triteness of white people playing the victim with all of the full-on narcissism that necessitates it. Critique rather than kill yr idols.
If Osborne really believed this sack of bile then he should be able to debate his position with those who do not agree rather than engaging in a back slapping exercise with chums who also espouse these views or with journalists too in awe of the man to question his opinions. Dialogue rather than dogma and diatribe is an important tool in helping others to more fully engage with the world in a reasoned and rational sense, and this goes for people on the extremes of any politicised viewpoint. We shouldn’t ‘cancel’ Osborne at this moment in time, as some are suggesting, but open up a dialogue and hope that it is heard so that a glimmer of empathy and humanity may be left in there to save.
Melvins have dabbled here and there in the obscene as gratuitous forms of ‘punk’ shock – images of the band doing admittedly comical Roman salutes and limited edition vinyl with swastikas on were often seen attributed to early-90s rock’s tendency to display a contrived sense of hostility to the mainstream as opposed to deep seated political statements – but perhaps these more candid political remarks have put these products into new light. The fact that there is so much product with Melvins has always put a significant question mark over their ‘punk’ ethics, whatever that may mean (and, to be fair to them, the band have never entirely labelled themselves as punk). Gluey Porch Treatments, Stoner Witch and Bullhead are all still stone cold classic albums, though.
The best thing about Melvins was always Joe Preston, anyway.