Review Summary: If it was a person, it would be committed.
Ok. First things first, “The Stag” is weird. It is a minor miracle that a major, mainstream record label actually released this, but such was the nature of the alternative 90’s when for a few years the majors did not have a clue what was going on and released anything as a result. The weirdness of the album is not in the genres the Melvins employ but in the combination of and variety of styles on the album. The album is literally schizophrenic. The album delves through straight up sludge metal, experimental grunge with trumpets and unusual arrangements to noise collages and dirge-like drone metal to 70’s rock, blues and randomly a pretty pop song. I believe it is reasonable to assume that the Melvins knew their days on a major label were numbered and just decided to indulge themselves and see what they could get away with.
Things start in straightforward territory with the barnstorming “The Bit”. Possibly the most commercial song the Melvins ever recorded, this song chugs along resolutely in ¾ time with an absolute classic of a riff. Possibly designed to lull the listener into a false sense of security this song is truly the calm before the storm. After a short eerie interlude, “Bar-X and The Rocking M” follows “The Bit” and remains somewhat on this side of sane but incorporates trumpets throughout and some scratching. The song does this quite effectively actually, as the trumpets don’t feel out of place at all and fit in quite nicely with the bouncy grunge riff of the song.
Things continue along this experimental grunge style until the alternative pop of “Black Bock”, floats out of the speakers as quite a shocking u turn to what has preceded it. The song is actually one of my favourite Melvins songs and is catchy, odd and eccentric. This song again employs an unusual arrangement and works as a signal that the album is about to go completely off the deep end. “Black Bock” is followed by the 6-minute dirge “Goggles”, which is once again quite a shock to the system because of what preceded it. This song crawls along, menacingly and is quite harrowing and unrelenting. The album follows this dirge template for a number of songs and I admit the album began to drag for me at this point a little bit. With the advent of “Skin Horse”, the record takes another u-turn into a more alternative rock sound before venturing into bizarre 70’s influenced rock on “Captain Pungent” and “Berthas” before ending with a slow blues number called “Cottonmouth”.
Phew. What a journey. Like an audio companion to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, this album just twists and turns all over the place with no concern for convention or genre. In this, I imagine the album could be quite polarising. For instance, my girlfriend thinks it is a big pile of stinking ***, and cannot make head or tails of it. However, I think it is a great venture by a band tearing up the rulebook and thinking “*** it, let’s just do it.”