Melvins: Five Legged Dog
15th October 2021 CD | DL
28th January 2022 LP
With their new acoustic album Five-Legged Dog, the Melvins reveal how music can become wildly untethered from our expectations and experimentation can take new and unheralded forms.
If you’d told me 20 years ago that the Melvins would be releasing an all-acoustic album after a global pandemic had been raging for more than a year, well . . . I probably wouldn’t have believed you. If you know the band largely through albums like Bullhead (1991) and Houdini (1993), it’s almost unfathomable that the grunge-metal anthems that shine on those records could be reimagined with an acoustic, lo-fi sound that focuses on vocal interplay. Yet the Melvins have gone and done it.
Five Legged Dog is a retrospective with thirty-six tracks and a handful of covers. Yet in many ways, the entire album is a cover album: the Melvins covering themselves. The varied tracks trace the band’s long history, starting in the near present with Edgar The Elephant and quickly taking us back in time, first to Up The Dumper from the late 90s and then further back to Hung Bunny And Hooch. If I’d heard this version of Hooch without knowing the context — the first track on the band’s notable album Houdini — I might not have realised immediately that it was, in fact, the Melvins playing the Melvins in a different sonic register. The same goes for subsequent tracks on Five Legged Dog that come from Houdini, like Night Goat and Honey Bucket.
Rather than centering Buzz Osborne’s deep and growling doom metal vocals and sludgy electric guitars, the Melvins experiment with vocal dialogue and acoustic riffs. In some of the tracks like Boris, detuned acoustic guitars take the place of buzzing electronic lines, re-registering our sensory reactions. The album feels at once indelibly linked yet wholly untethered from the Melvins’ oeuvre, forcing the listener to reevaluate just what it is we think we know about the band. Ultimately, by starting with some of the band’s newer music before descending into the past, it’s almost as if Five Legged Dog is an experiment in strange, sonic time travel, asking us all to consider whether it’s possible to make the past anew.
The Melvins certainly aren’t the first grunge, metal, or rock group to put out an acoustic record. Of course, given the band’s connection to Kurt Cobain, the first album that comes to mind is Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York (1994). Yes, yes, we all know and love that one. But I’m also thinking about the odd album from around the same time, No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded (1994). Both words suggest an unmaking, or a negation from the original: unplugged, unledded, with the latter taking the very Led out of Led Zeppelin. I’m also thinking about G N’ R Lies (1988), that features some unexpected acoustic wonders like Patience (which, by the way, became a gorgeous posthumous cover hit by Chris Cornell, bringing all of this talk about acoustic covers full circle to Seattle). And to look at it another way, Five Legged Dog might simply be the Melvins cracking an extended joke about Bob Dylan’s recent multi-record album Triplicates.
Speaking of covers, I’m a bit perplexed by some of the choices, and the ways they speak both to one another and to the acoustic renditions of well-known Melvins tracks. The Melvins are no strangers to covers, of course. You might know the band’s own versions of Butthole Surfers, KISS, and Throbbing Gristle tracks. The band even released an entire album of covers about a decade ago, Everybody Loves Sausages (2013). The Melvins’ homages to The Scientists are also killer. To that end, the Redd Kross cover on Five Legged Dog makes perfect sense, as does reimagining Alice Cooper. And I’m slowly becoming enamored with this acoustic yet grungy version of the Rolling Stones’ Sway. Yet my mind is still trying to wrap itself around the Turtles’ Outside Chance as I wonder about other (absent) covers that might have fit interestingly on Five Legged Dog.
I’m also intrigued, as I suspect you might be, by the title of the album. At once, it conjures a creature that’s not of this world — another way, perhaps, of describing a Melvins multi-record acoustic album that includes a cover of a Turtles song. At the same time, in that vein, the Melvins thus bring the mythic into the real, revealing how anything is possible in the realm of music. Five Legged Dog shows us how a band that has been recording for more than three decades can find new ways to take risks and to illumine the unexpected.
Five Legged Dog is the Melvins developing a new mode of the uncanny in music. It’s the Melvins, but at the same time, it’s something quite different. Fans of the band should be both mesmerised and mystified, learning to see the Melvins in a new light. And if Five Legged Dog is your first introduction to the Melvins, the album will work in reverse: once you go back to records like Bullhead, Houdini, and Stoner Witch, the Melvins will once again be made strange. The album is well worth your time investment, and there’s a hypnotic beauty in many of the tracks, especially the acoustic version of Shevil.