Dale Crover - Rat-a-tat-tat! (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Dale Crover

Rat-a-tat-tat! (2020)

Joyful Noise recordings

Dale Crover’s second album, Rat-a-tat-tat is both a love letter and a hate letter. For the release, the Melvins drummer assembled a band of punk/rock veterans including Steve McDonald of Redd Kross (and the Melvins), producer to the alt-stars Toshi Kasai, and LA secret drummer weapon Mindee Jourgensen. Crover has clearly built his band around these people because they are veteran musicians that are able to easily take rock landmarks and bend them around Melvin-style weirdness.

For instance, “Tougher,” one of the album’s standout tracks, winks towards Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” with its processed, low end boogie-woogie stomp. That track, and the others like it, are clearly a salute to the 70s rock masters. But, whereas in lighter hands the track might have become mere homage, Dale and crew coat the whole thing in a sort of acid-darkness. “Frankenstein” was fun, whereas “Tougher” is misanthropic… and still fun.

But, for every classic rock call back, there’s either an avant-garde space trip (“Stumbler”, with its liquid saxophone, could almost fit on Bowie’s Blackstar) or a garage-band-beat-up sound experiment, like “The Bowie Mix.” Despite the title of that one, you won’t hear any Iggy-aping. What you will hear is the sinister beat of the Asheton brothers then pulled into a bleaker realm. Maybe if “We Will Fall” was pulled into The Pink Fairies universe it would sound like that.

Of course, when you have a lot of skilled, knowledgeable musicians cranking out tracks that nod to the classics and obscure influences, there’s always the threat that the band will create a “musician’s album.” That is, an album crammed full of references and winks to certain playing styles, but no real substance underneath.

This album avoids that, but the way it avoids that is surprising. Time and time again, Crover has been called “the nicest guy in rock.” Read any interview with him and he seems like a jolly guy and every interviewer gets along with him. Yet, despite that, this album seems permeated with hatred and despair. “I waited forever for you to get well/ there’s not much more I could do/ It seemed a lot better than telling the truth / I didn’t believe it would be help… it couldn’t help” Crover laments on “I’ll never say.” (Mcdonald’s bass reminds me of Dennis Dunaway on the track, which adds an especially spooky touch). “I can’t help you there” finds Dale turning his back on yippity-yappers that are trying to draw him into an argument. The words of hatred and darkness and cast out in many directions here.

Now, not every song written by a musician is a soul-bearing treatise. Sometimes, the singer might just be telling a story or is using a different perspective. And to boot, here, even when the album is spooky or cloaked in dread (which is most of the time), everyone seems to be having fun. “New Pharaoh,” which takes the screaming robots of Chrome and adds a Psychic TV beat might sound like an interstellar horror, but its also just plain sci-fi fun.

Still though, because Crover and crew take to swimming in the black waters so readily, and so convincingly, this can’t all be dress up. In a recent interview with Punknews, Crover somewhat surprisingly announced that, “I think we’re all living in hell.” That’s not the kind of statement we have come to expect from the blonde grinner. And that’s the question posed by this LP. When we travel through these dark corridors with Crover, are we doing so as a release, as a way to expunge negative feelings in order to stay positive? Or, is a good-natured disposition really just a way to push down the ever-bubbling, indefatigable, black feelings we all keep just below the skin?