Wait a second. You mean to tell me that there’s a supergroup composed of the instruments behind Melvins, At the Drive-In and Le Butcherettes? That might be, on paper, one of the more bizarre combinations in recent memory, and that’s in the face of scattershot supergroups like Adrenaline Mob and a smattering of others.
The natural assumption here is that there is no middle ground this band can occupy. The indescribably acerbic potential of a concoction that’s one part Buzz Osborne and equal measures Teri Gender Bender and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez lends the audience to believe that only two possible outcomes exist – The Crystal Fairy album will either be the best or worst album ever. No other outcomes seem plausible.
If we’re being honest, much of that assumption comes from the stigma attached to King Buzzo, a man whose career has been as varied and versatile as any in recent memory, but who is also given to flights of bizarre fancy and sidebars that may have been best left as ideas sketched haphazardly onto loose leaf notebook paper. That said, King Buzzo has always secretly kept one underlying truth in his personal poker hand, which is that his passion to each project is the conduit through which his dedication to it can be measured. The Cliff Notes version is this – Musically, Buzzo never half-asses anything. (The same can’t necessarily be said for his wardrobe. I saw the man once perform in what appeared to be a paisley Snuggie.)
To that end, and perhaps to the surprise of many, one of the fundamental traits of Crystal Fairy is that Buzzo plays it fairly straight here, and the rest of the band follows suit. As one might reasonably anticipate, the lyrics are predictably ridiculous (and by the time you get to album closer “Vampire X-Mas,” you’ve pretty much got the whole picture,) but the music is very much punk-influenced rock that’s more or less by the numbers.
Which isn’t a bad thing by any stretch. If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that what’s old can be new again when properly handled by experts, and Crystal Fairy treats the product with the proper examination and respect. The opening thrum of “Chiseler” combines the best elements of classic punk, grunge and alternative rock breakdowns to create a sound that isn’t revolutionary but carries the proper weight of a job well done.
This continues in various forms throughout the record, starting with the boom and pound of “Drugs on the Bus” which isn’t exactly worlds apart from Melvins’ classic “Revolve.” Rodriguez-Lopez adapts himself well into this paradigm of music, using some of his recognizable technique within the greater framework of what Crystal Fairy is offering.
From there until the end, all of the songs strike many of the same notes, with variations of success. The title track is quite well distinguished and rhythmic and just plain good (bonus, always fun to talk about a song, album and band all having the same title – the song “Iron Maiden” on the album “Iron Maiden” by the band Iron Maiden; the song “Black Sabbath” on the album “Black Sabbath” by the band Black Sabbath; the song “Crystal Fairy” on the album “Crystal Fairy” by the band Crystal Fairy.) Plus, there’s a real, tangible catchiness to the stop-and-go of “Necklace of Divorce,” which reminds every so obliquely of the Toadies, and it’s in these subtle moments where the band really shines, highlight Gender Bender’s sanguine but tilted vocals with each measure.
That said, the back half of the record repeats a lot of the same and doesn’t necessarily do so with the same degree of accomplishment. “Secret Agent Rat” is ambitious but sort of falls apart under its own weight and the piercing scream of “Posesion” fails to really capture before becoming grating. So while the ponderous drone of “Moth Tongue” works, the musical stretching of “Under Trouble” or “Bent Teeth” doesn’t.
When it’s all said and done, Crystal Fairy ends up occupying much of the space that none of us thought it would – it’s a pretty good record, but not a transcendent one. Where the album truly succeeds perhaps dictates the lens it must be viewed through, which is as a demonstration of a group of friends and musical compatriots getting together to jam some ideas out and see what they can make work. It’s an exercise that any amateur musician and his/her friends have executed a hundred times, and if Crystal Fairy does nothing else, they remind us of the importance of music among friends. So there’s that, and that’s no small take away. Still, don’t expect something you’ve never heard before.