Melvins: Houdini Album Review | Fork

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Black Flag had an absurdly productive year, releasing three albums (beginning with my war) and playing around 170 shows. One such show was on September 25, 1984 at Mountaineers Hall in Seattle, with a hungry young band called Green River opening. Osbourne, Cobain and Lukin all went, with Cobain selling his entire record collection to buy tickets. None of them came out the same. Cobain began doing his hair, spray-painting cars, and screaming to strengthen his vocal cords. As for Osbourne and Lukin: “The Melvins went from the fastest band in Seattle to the slowest, almost overnight,” in the words of another Washington punk named Kim Thayil, who would form a band called Soundgarden la same year.

By this time, the Melvins had replaced Dillard with a drummer named Dale Crover, whose mother’s house in Aberdeen was a makeshift practice space. Young C/Z Records picked them up and put them on a 1986 compilation titled six deep it was supposed to highlight the new sonic brewing in the northwest, but after cutting the self-titled 1986 EP for C/Z and 1987 Gooey Porch Treatments for the Bay Area Alchemy label, Osborne and Crover moved to San Francisco. Lukin alleges that Osborne refused to officially fire him, telling him he had broken up the band; it wasn’t until Lukin met Osborne in San Francisco that he learned the truth. (Lukin would go on to co-found Mudhoney, then retire from music to pursue carpentry.)

The Melvins’ early years in the city produced some of their best work: Ozma and Bullhead, with Lori Black (the daughter of Shirley Temple, of all people) on bass, and the powerful drone-metal ur-text Lysol, with Joe Preston holding down the low end on an early entry into one of underground metal’s most enviable resumes. Meanwhile, their old pals Cobain and Novoselic were building rapidly in Seattle, exalting the Melvins’ influence at almost every turn. “You couldn’t buy better publicity,” Osborne said, and soon major labels eager to grab the Seattle sound as much as they could were turning to this obviously and militantly bizarre band in hopes that could be the next Nirvana. The Melvins went with Atlantic and booked Brilliant Studios in San Francisco to make their fifth album, 1993 Houdini.

While the industry climate was ideal for a band like the Melvins finding a hint of commercial success, the band’s personal situation was not. When they started working on Houdini, they had fired Preston and taken Black back, but she checked herself into rehab after being arrested for heroin possession in Portland, and Osborne and Crover played bass on most of the album. Meanwhile, self-styled “producer” Cobain was embroiled in his own heroin addiction and consumed by the realization of Nirvana. In utero, published the same day as Houdini. Originally slated for workshop songs with Osborne before production, he flew to San Francisco on the first day of sessions and fell asleep at 6 p.m. “I went to [Nirvana manager] Danny Goldberg’s Los Angeles office and said, “Listen, Kurt Cobain is tense,” Osborne said. “Kurt was really bad, as bad as he’s ever been.”

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