Music Reviews

Meat Puppets Lollipop

(Megaforce) Rating - 7/10

As the Meat Puppets celebrate their 30th anniversary, it’s worth bearing in mind that few people, upon hearing their debut album at the time of its release, would have earmarked the group for longevity. Curt Kirkwood’s claim that the band were out of their minds on LSD for the entire three day studio session seems plausible when one considers the 14 tracks of demented country punk and incoherent mental-patient vocals that were crammed into the record’s 21 minute running time.

In hindsight, the unhinged sessions had a cathartic effect. With their difficult record out of their system, the band began to lay down rudimentary melodies for their follow up. Three tracks recorded for Meat Puppets II would, years later, briefly thrust the Kirkwood brothers into the spotlight, following an extended guest appearance on Nirvana’s legendary Unplugged performance.

The band’s early years on Greg Ginn’s SST label saw them refining a melodic, hallucinatory style of desert rock. Anybody who has heard a Meat Puppets record will know what to expect from this new release: The songs that sound like they’ve been warped in a shimmering heat haze; the close harmonies; the sun-scorched guitars; the sense that the music is feeding back into the landscape that inspired it.

Lollipop, in common with its predecessors, is strewn with fleeting moments of natural beauty. The high point on the album  - Lantern’s instrumental break - is a delicate Spanish guitar solo, barely 40 seconds long, that dissolves into a shower of notes before reconfiguring itself in a more complex form.

In the world of the Meat Puppets, where even God has cause to wonder at its own infinite nature,  the band stand in awe at their relative smallness in the face of the universe, perpetually caught between astonishment and absurdity. "Why do I eat peanuts?" Curt Kirkwood asks of himself in The Spider And The Spaceship - a jaunty trail song with nonsensical lyrics and a Mexican brass band as backing. In a very similar vein, Hour Of The Idiot (a typical Meat Puppets title) is bouncy pop with a piercing guitar solo and twinkling keyboards that turn up in the second chorus.

The band have a rare talent for turning superficially druggy musings into something poignant. The opening track - Incomplete - is wistful folk with hyper-real lyrics that speak of fractures in time. When the Kirkwood brothers sing of being torn from the very breath I am made of, it's with a sense of amazement and fascination as opposed to terror. The song, whose verses are bogged down under the weight of doomy moonlit synth, acquires a bounding forward momentum in the chorus. A thumping drum picks up the pace at some arbitrary point until the vocals drop away and the ponderous bass line brings it to an end.  

The Meat Puppets are at their best when there is an impetus driving their surreal concepts forward. Orange has a misleading piano opening that hangs suspended in the air before the band wakes up, pushing the rhythm section front and centre stage, dragging a low rumbling bass line at speed along the ground while a strangled electric guitar jangles away almost inaudibly somewhere at the back. The great shame here is that they can only keep this up for the first few songs. Lollipop loses some of its flavour as it passes the halfway mark and drifts into cruise control. 

Recent Meat Puppet albums have had an ephemeral presence in record shops, particularly in the UK, appearing on a variety of labels and disappearing from the racks not long after release. With music so focused on the transitory nature of things, it seems strangely appropriate.