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Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets II

November 28, 2006

Sorry there hasn’t been so much as a few words in the past two weeks or so. It has been kind of hectic around here. I’ve been playing with the tower for god knows how long by now. So long that my eyes are hurting. And I’ve had a lot of reports and projects due, so not much time has been alotted for here. But here I am, at least for now.

My backlog of music to review is enormous. It’s just so hard to chose what to review anymore. Often times, I need to really sit down and give an album a proper listen, as opposed to just kind of sitting and absorbing the music while I am doing homework or something like that. I do listen to a lot of music, but it’s not so often that an entire album gets the justice done to it that it should get. Problem is too, I review stuff too obscure for the typical music fan to know about, and yet too painfully well known for the typical “indie” rock fan. I know I have said it before, but I’ll say it again. If I ask you what your taste in music is and you say “indie rock,” I will likely punch you in the jaw. “Indie” is not a form of music. That doesn’t tell me anything, except that the artist is most likely not in the mainstream. Which honestly means nothing. Any good artist won’t feel restricted in the first place, and it’s not like major record labels warp any sense of art so much as adopt a certain kind sometimes. Just please, if you are the kind of person that determines their tastes by how many other people know about the artist, don’t hassle me for appeasing to the “most popular indie rock” just because you are an elitist prick.

That said, this is one of the more popular underground albums of the eighties and a popular choice for top albums lists if only because of it’s inviting nature. The truth is, it’s more folk/pop than anything, but what distinguishes this album is the sheer fun it is to listen to and how appealing it is to the liberal twenty-something, or even teenagers with open minds. Not that the music wouldn’t have been brilliant if it weren’t for the initially difficult vocals and traditional punk attitude. Because it is outwardly brilliant, that’s for sure. In the same way that Led Zeppelin could get away with following their band name with a roman numeral for their sophomore release, the Meat Puppets could do the same thing without feeling pretentious. The album is brilliantly crafted melodies of both the folk and pop genres, with quite a bit of punk frazzled throughout. This is an underground alternative classic, and it goes without saying that everyone should own a copy.

The listener will realize the nature of the music the second they turn the record on, which is scarcely true for any other music. Usually it takes a few tracks for the mood to sink in. But here, the style is encompassed very well with the first track, Split Myself in Two, with classic rugged guitar chords and a foot tapping blues beat. Another thing that the listener will recognize right off the bat are the distinctiveness of the vocals. No one will pretend that guitarist Curt Kirkwood doesn’t have a bad voice. Because it is very bad. And yet surprisingly abrasive for how much it cracks and how bad of a range he has. It sort of gives the music that much more of a laid back feeling and a distinguished apathy that the listener can relate to. In a word, for the disinfranchised rock fan, this is probably what their voice would sound close to in quality if they someday decided to scream out words outside of their shower stall. The lyrics are deffinitely good though. For how sophisticated they are, you could really never tell unless you saw them on paper. The first track works out respectably well, and brings the listener into the happy fun mood of the album.

Next up is one of the albums many fantastic instrumentals, Magic Toy Missing. Essentially, it’s a quick moving folk/pop tune distinguished mostly by it’s elaborate guitar strumming and soloing. The beat is fast and energetic, so the listener surely won’t get bored from the lack of lyrics. But to be honest, this is just a taste of what the rest of the album has in store. The other instrumentals are actually better, not to overshadow the goodness of the first one. But Aurora Borealis describes with only instrumentation the mysterious, rugged, serious, and yet completely relaxed mood of looking into the hypnotic shining night sky. But the truth is, the unpredictable chord progressions and extremely impressive guitarwork is what makes the song great. The best instrumental might damn well be I’m A Mindless Idiot though. It’s got a fantastic country tinge with a killer hook, and a mass appeal, to all those who have some nagging suspicion that they just might be a mindless idiot and are just coming to the grips with the fact that it’s possible to be proud of that fact. Unlike Aurora Borealis’ initially uninviting progression, Mindless Idiot is utterly loveable. Maybe being smart or intuitive really isn’t what living is about.

The track after Magic Toy Missing starts out with a strangely familiar little riff and evolves quickly. Lost sort of fleshes out the promises of Magic Toy Missing with a folky stomp-able beat and a charming melody to accompany it. This is the perfect example of how the Meat Puppets can relate to the listener, by speaking of some kind of confusion and aimlessness that isn’t unfamiliar to the young music fan, but by presenting it in a fun catchy context, sort of the kind of way the listener would want to hear it. It’s almost country in a way, but not in the sleazy conservative way.

It should be noted that The Meat Puppets were in a way discovered by more mainstream listeners after they were introduced by then grunge maestro Kurt Cobain of Nirvana at the bands Unplugged concert, when he introduced Curt and Cris Kirkwood onstage to accompany him for three of the bands songs from this album. The original versions of Plateau, Lake of Fire, and Oh Me might not be as serious and emotionally chilling and powerful as the cover versions, but that doesn’t overshadow the songwriting ability that was put into them. Plateau is a fun and mysterious mountain groove that once again hits the more serious and unobvious notes that the band is so good, especially when a pretty electric solo is used near the end of the song. The other original versions of the songs that Nirvana covered are just as well written and important sounding as this, without wrapping the listener up in any preaching and still keeping the laid back sound in tact. But it’s pretty obvious that the cover versions were better played. Lake Of Fire would be otherwise laughable if Kurt Cobain had not sort of dressed up the song and let the tune be performed live, because the electric guitars just don’t work as well as the acoustic ones do, and Curt’s voice is horribly strained and aggravating. Oh, Me is done with a tad too much simplicity, and is taken at an awfully slow pace. It’s not that the covers that were performed on Nirvana Unplugged were some kind of revelation or anything… All three songs were great in the first place, but sometimes it takes a cover version to help realize exactly what the original was trying to say. This is the utmost case with these songs.

The album scarcely hits any bad songs as far as songwriting goes though. The Whistling Song is absolute apathetic teenage bliss, and not in a snotty way either. It’s a fun loveable country anthem worthy of describing a whole sub-culture. The more sweet-hearted piece is We’re Here, almost a bit mystical in it’s polished and loving presentation. Two latter tracks, Climbing and New Gods, are both vintage Puppets. The former is a familiar country jangle and the latter is a punk release. But the fun doesn’t end with The Whistling Song if you have a copy of the album containing several bonus tracks. Some songs not on the original release are equally as interesting as the albums main body.

One of the albums strongest tunes (and incidentally an instrumental) is a bonus track. Sprawling with power and meaning, Teenager is one of the most true-to-its-title songs any band has ever produced, in a way painfully describing what a teenager actually is. The Whistling Song is a fine closer, but a lot of the albums meaning comes in the form of the bonus tracks as well. This song starts out with a loud, obnoxious, angry punk segment that is almost sounds like something the Ramones would have improvised if they were hopped up on some kind of hallucinogen. I suppose the song technically isn’t completely vocal-less, because you do get Curt screaming out incoherent phrases throughout the entire phase. But then, a steady beat straightens out the confusion and anger, and a mysterious pained melody is revealed, a dark and open venture into guitar improvisation and minor tonalities. My words cannot accurately describe this song, and you really need to hear it yourself. It’s not pop gold, but an ingenious map of exactly what teenagers are all about. Yes, they yell and scream and vandalize and act like punks, but when they go home, a pained, confused, and ultimately helpless interior is let out. And yet, they are still beautiful people. They are simply in a situation that they find themselves extremely hard pressed to help themselves in. Such is the misunderstood nature of the disenfranchised American liberal teenager, currently unable to find their place or aim simply because of their developmental age. Maybe I’m looking into this too much, but that is deffinitely what I got out of this song.

Anyway, the album is a great classic and a must have for rock fans. It takes some getting used to, but in the end it’s just a fantastic album. It really never gets old because it’s an unpredictable and varied venture. Make sure you pick up a copy with the bonus tracks though, as they are an overall enhancement to an already great album and are essential tracks for not only fans but casual listeners too.

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