Listening to Dale Crover’s second solo album apart from The Melvins is a funny/unique experience because, after having made music with the same band (well, “the same musical counterpart,” singer/guitarist Buzz Osbourne, anyway) for so many decades, it’s hard to remove that sensibility from the music – or hard to remove it completely, anyway. As one listens to Rat-A-Tat-Tat, for example, it’s easy to imagine Buzz Osbourne taking the mic for these songs and hearing them released under The Melvins moniker; some of the compositional similarities are there – at least on some of the songs. And it needs to be said that these songs are great – however, the songs which sound like they could have appeared on a Melvins album are not all of what Rat-A-Tat-Tat is about. Rather, they are simply a beginning; they’re the safe zones which appear on the album and allow listeners to take a solid breather before taking off to follow Crover into the unknown.
Of course, in order to establish the difference between what is safe and what is not, Rat-A-Tat-Tat has to establish a couple of recognizable poles. As stylus touches down and digs in, “Moclips” opens the A-side with unusual sounds and tape manipulations similar to those which appeared on the earliest Ween recordings and some of the pre-Mellow Gold Beck albums. There are no lyrics, there are no vocals – there are barely instruments in place other than drums. It’s not really even a song; “Moclips” simply seeks to create ambiance for about a minute and forty-nine seconds before “I Can’t Help You There” steps up with a great, raucous rock song complete with a fantastic guitar performance and a vocal melody which is easily comparable to what fans have grown to expect from The Melvins – so much so that one can imagine Buzz Osbourne singing it – in an alternate universe.
After about three minutes, “Moclips” slams shut and listeners are reminded to breathe. “I Can’t Help You There” arrives next and is both an exemplary song as well as a great performance. Next to “Moclips,” “I Can’t Help You There” the second pole and the other songs on Rat-A-Tat-Tat exist between those two extremes. On the A-side, great and epic rock songs like “Tougher” and “Shark Like Overbite” (which actually manages to venture close to rock-solid songwriting in the vein of The Replacements and Traveling Wilburys) are contrasted with sonorous but static tracks like “Stumbler” and “Supine Is How I Found Him” which do hold listeners engaged because they want to see what Crover will do next – but also try their patience, the further the songs get from conventional rock structure.
The B-side of Rat-A-Tat-Tat starts on far more solid ground with the “very college rock” acoustic songwriting of “I’ll Never Say” (which is absolutely great) and does hit upon some other solid notes with “Untrue Crime,” “The Bowie Mix” (which sounds like it borrowed the drums from Gary Glitter’s “Rock N’ Roll” and added some mumbling reminiscent of the Butthole Surfers) and “Kiss Proof World,” which excuses the mind-expanding weirdness if “songs” like “New Pharoah” and “Piso Mojado” which doesn’t really go anywhere, but leave enough hooks exposed to ensure that listeners hang around to see the songs through.
Now, obviously, after those who have made it front-to-back with Rat-A-Tat-Tat will still need that moment to try and decide what this album is. True, there are sonic elements which make the album very Melvins-esque (which, yes, will appeal to Melvins fans), but much of the music ventures far enough from what fans know and/or expect that it can not simply be written in as derivative of the band’s catalogue. That makes this album salubrious food for thought regarding what might come from both The Melvins and from Dave Crover as a solo artist in the future; the ground on which it stands is not perfectly firm, but is definitely an incredibly interesting document. [Bill Adams]
Rat-A-Tat-Tat is out now on Joyful Noise Records. Buy it here on Amazon.