Meat Puppets

Picture of Meat Puppets

In a Car EP

Meat Puppets - In a Car EP ©1981 World Imitation
1. In a Car
2. Big House
3. Dolphin Field
4. Out in the Garden
5. Foreign Lawns

The Phoenix, Arizona, trio Meat Puppets may have been one of the most bizarre outfits to emerge in the early days of American punk and hardcore. The debut 7" single, In a Car, features five songs blasted out in five minutes and is guaranteed to leave nearly every music fan scratching his or her head in bewilderment. It's hard to make sense of the unhinged songs which sound like pisstakes on country guitar pickin' and unbridled hardcore range. Curt Kirkwood's screamed vocals erupt like a very wacky demon had possessed his body during the recording session (which probably lasted all of two hours, including mixdown). Unlike the Minutemen, who essentially introduced the concept of unorthodox song structure and sheer brevity mixed with creative musicianship, Meat Puppets are artless, confounding and simply strange on this debut single. In a Car can only be the result of sunstroke and a bad combination of pills.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2009

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Meat Puppets

Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets ©1982 SST
1. Reward
2. Love Offering
3. Blue-Green God
4. Walking Boss
5. Melons Rising
6. Saturday Morning
7. Our Friends
8. Tumbling Tumbleweeds
9. Milo, Sorghum, and Maize
10. Meat Puppets
11. Playing Dead
12. Litterbox
13. Electromud
14. The Gold Mine

The first "full length" Meat Puppets record is perhaps a step forward from the band's inexplicable debut EP, In a Car, but still one of the most truly bizarre offerings to ever come out of the early punk rock scene. The album was record in an expedient fashion (three days) and utilized illicit substances (LSD) and in many ways, it shows. The band rips through the fourteen songs with reckless abandon, throwing in a touch of the punk country influence that would be much more prominent in the future, but generally just sounding quite out of control. So much of the music is incomprehensible, both in production quality and just what they were trying to achieve. Without a doubt, this has to be one of the most head-scratching releases in American punk rock. Even when the band covers the country classic "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", they make it sound like you, the listener, somehow got a contact high through your stereo speakers.

Meat Puppets is the sonic equivalent of an undisciplined Jackson Pollock painting.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2009

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Meat Puppets II

Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets II ©1983 SST
1. Split Myself In Two
2. Magic Toy Missing
3. We're Here
4. Plateau
5. I'm A Mindless Idiot
6. Lost
7. Climbing
8. New Gods
9. Oh, Me
10. Lake Of Fire
11. Aurora Borealis
12. The Whistling Song

Caught somewhere between the dusty crossroads of country, folk, punk, and psychedelia, The Meat Puppets made a near-180 degree stylistic turn from their screeching, slurring brain-damaged debut album to bring forth a work that would become considered an all time classic within the canon of 80s independent rock, and an imminently influential one at that. By using hardcore punk's straight-forward song structures and temporal brevity as a starting point, and then filtering it through the various lenses of the aforementioned musical styles (country, psych, folk, etc.), and combining that with an unabashed reversal hardcore's tendencies towards rock ahistoracism (or, to put another way, the fact that these guys not only liked classic stuff like ZZ Top and Neil Young but also proudly wore these influences on their collective sleeve), The Meat Puppets on II helped in no small part to set the stage for the alternative rock boom that would occur almost a decade later, forging a sound and aesthetic that would be mined to some degree or another by everyone from Nirvana to The Gin Blossoms. But even if this album hadn't influenced a single band, or been as important to the rise of contemporary popular rock as it has, the fact of the matter remains that simply put, Meat Puppets II is a fantastic album.

With twelve songs clocking in at just barely over thirty minutes, II is an impeccably paced slice of post punk perfection, and I want you to know that I'm using all that alliteration because damn it, I mean it. The songs vary from being fast and punky ("Split Myself In Two", "New Gods"), midtempo and countrified ("Climbing"), and at times slow, mellow, and utterly gorgeous (the lush, glowing, unspeakably lovely "Lost"), but not a single one overstays its welcome, and nor do any feel unnecessary on this disc. Each piece has its own unique feel, yet all fit together to create a remarkably cohesive whole. Really, for all its stylistic explorations, there is not a single moment on this disc that feels awkward or out of place, and it is this sense of cohesion that only adds further to the album's eminent listenability.

Guitarist Curt Kirkwood either lazily drawls his witty, ridiculous lyrics or forces them out them out in a skinny, sort of nasally bumpkin-next-door voice (mostly on the faster numbers), and tastefully shuts up on the album's three entirely compelling instrumental numbers. (Which is fine, really, given that they're instrumentals and such and probably don't appreciate some skinny Arizonan potheads such as Mr. Kirkwood is singing over them.) As Curt paints a portrait of a vast desert expanse through his expertly played clean and/or gently distorted chords and note runs, bassist (and brother to Curt) Chris Kirkwood holds the rhythm down in an immaculately tight lockstep with the crisp, clean drumming of Derrick Bostrom. Noted SST sound engineer Spot (who has also worked with such acts as Black Flag and Husker Du) does a smashing job handling the production, providing the band with a punchy mix that is both warm and sharp; clean enough to leave each instrument fully audible, yet not so clean as to render the sound dry and sterile. Thus, this album is the result of a truly remarkable effort all around, from every angle of its creation. Color me impressed.

So as it goes, if the level of gushing I've been doing hasn't been a dead giveaway up to this point, I might as well come out now with the shocking revelation of my own subjectivity here and now and say that this is without a doubt my favorite album of all time. Meat Puppets II is a truly seminal work of American postpunk/alternative rock, and its influence still looms large today. But as was said before, influence, while nice, is hardly the point here. When it comes down to it, II is a just-plain terrific work, and is a recommended listening for anyone with a taste for creative, well-executed left-of-the-dial rock and roll. Run out and buy it, or digitally download it or whatever it is that the kids do these days. Believe me, it's worth every penny, pixel, and megabyte, however many hundreds or thousands of those it happens to be.

(Note: Within the past decade, The Meat Puppets have successfully pursued legal recourse to get the rights to their master tapes back from SST Records. As such, the current version of Meat Puppets II in print is available on Rykodisc, and contains several bonus tracks. The version I have just reviewed applies to the original twelve track, SST edition.)

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 08/2009

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Monsters

Meat Puppets - Monster ©1989 Rykodisc
1. Attacked By Monsters
2. Light
3. Meltdown
4. In Love
5. The Void
6. Touchdown King
7. Party Till The World Obeys
8. Flight Of The Fire Weasel
9. Strings On Your Heart
10. Like Being Alive
11. Wish Upon A Storm
12. Flight Of The Fire Weasel Pt. 1
13. Flight Of The Fire Weasel Pt. 2

As the final album the Meat Puppets released for SST Records, Monsters is a fine piece of work, although it apparently received negative feedback from a portion of their fanbase and the band split up for awhile. However, aside from a somewhat mushed sonic production that squashed the guitars down a bit too much, Monsters is a good release.

The most notable aspect of Monsters is that singer/guitarist Curt Kirkwood had finally harnessed his vocals to the point where he wasn't so off key that listening to their music could be a chore. While still rather flat and plainative, the vocals on Monsters are fitting and are no longer a severe detraction. The band also wrote in a more straightforward rock fashion for the album, losing a certain amount of the cowpunk weirdness of earlier releases for something that might be closer to ZZ Top meets modern rock of the late 80s. Curt Kirkwood's guitar playing and leads still excel through Monsters, with some of the extended songs allowing for him to weave together impressive and fluid tapestries of rhythms and leads. "Touchdown King" is absolutely marvelous and creates a very nice mood for the listener. The album does have a couple of mediocre numbers that do bring the album down on a whole, such as the meandering "The Void" or "Party Till the World Obeys".

The 1999 Rykodisc reissue appends three extra tracks, including a different pair of versions of "Flight of the Fire Weasel". The liners notes also include interesting and informative notes about the period of time that the album was originally released, including a tidbit of trivia that Monsters was originally slated to be their first major label release on Atlantic, although that ultimately fell through. Nevertheless, Monsters ranks as a strong achievement for the band and one of their more recommended albums.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2001

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Forbidden Places

Meat Puppets - Forbidden Places ©1992 London
1. Sam
2. Nail It Down
3. This Day
4. Open Wide
5. Another Moon
6. That's How It Goes
7. Whirlpool
8. Popskull
9. No Longer Gone
10. Forbidden Places
11. Six Gallon Pie

By the time the Meat Puppets reached the nineties, Curt Kirkwood had finally shed the off-key singing for a more comfortable listening experience. He still has the lonesome desert voice but it's odd how much decent singing can help a song out. Though Forbidden Places isn't as unsafe as the band's earlier work, it still contains some decent material. "Sam", "Open Wide" and "Another Moon" are all quite good in their own way. Kirkwood's guitar playing is of course exceptional, perhaps showing a little appeal to the jam-happy Phish crowds out there. The down side of this album is the pseudo country excursions or simply uninspired songs. The Meat Puppets apparently were aiming for a more mainstream rock community with their 90's material but at the expense of the fans who preferred the edgier material from the 80's. The end result is an album that is red hot when it is on, and a complete lame duck when it is not.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/1999

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