As rock bands go, Arizona’s Meat Puppets have never been what one would classify as normal. At their calmest you could say that their approach to music is unorthodox and at their wildest well, they are flat out, full-speed-ahead weird.
Since forming in Paradise Valley, Arizona in early 1980, the band has released seminal albums, including the SST classic Meat Puppets 2, created their own style of punk rock by combining psychedelic rock (and tons of actual hallucinogens), country music and the off beat vocal delivery of twin brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood, to make a sound solidly that of the brothers Meat.
The sound the Kirkwoods fostered was not embraced by the mainstream, the one exception being 1994’s Too High To Die, but it was borrowed from and built upon by some of the most influential bands of my generation including Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., Nada Surf, the Replacements to name just a few. The band’s latest album, Sewn Together [Megaforce] is exactly that, a sewn together tapestry of all the influences and substances that morphed into the creature that is The Meat Puppets.
The album’s title track is a singsong campfire distortion touched country rock gem that would make Gram Parsons and his Flying Burrito Brothers proud. That is just one of the pop infused gems to be found on the album ironically released by metal gods Metallica’s first label residence.
“Blanket of Weeds” is a harmonized tune with a distortion jam filling out it’s midsection; “Sapphire” shows that the at times stellar band Concrete Blonde may have been Puppets followers as well. “Go to Your Head” has a feeling that yes, in fact, Michael Stipe stole his voice from Cris Kirkwood and Peter, Bill and Mike pilfered their best ideas from the bluegrass lovin’ Arizona punks.
But longtime fans don’t be fooled by the rock conformity. Oh no, there are some moments that we’ve come to know, love and attribute to an acid consumption on par with Hendrix. The most likely suspect of this and the perhaps the best song on Sewn Together is the whistle lead, “The Monkey and The Snake”. Strange lyrics abound here: “This is the story of the monkey and the snake/the monkey hit that sucker with a rake/snake bit the monkey and the hand/now the monkey’s singin’ in a band.” And believe it or not it gets weirder from there. Drum solos, flange guitar, mandolin and funky bass are in full force here.
To put it simply, Sewn Together is a beautifully strange album that proves the Meat Puppets are still relevant and have much to offer the world of “indie” rock.
The point of the many comparisons to other bands in this review is not do to a lack of imagination on my part; or is it to imply that The Meat Puppets have reached the end of their creative rope after twenty-nine years. That couldn’t be further from the truth; it is merely to show the influence that band has had on Alternative music. Without the Meat Puppets, alternative as we know it would have an entirely different sound or may not exist at all.
Thank you Jesus for the Kirkwood brothers. Sewn Together is one of the top five best albums I’ve heard so far this year and more importantly, it is yet another step in The Meat Puppets’ journey of greatness.