Meat Puppets Sewn Together(Meat Puppets) Buy it from Insound
Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun were not fascinating punk albums because they were country. They were fascinating punk albums because they trampled country music with its own stallion, then sat on its crumpled body and smoked all its Marlboro Reds.
It’s been a long time since the Meat Puppets were the twenty-something desert dogs from Phoenix that turned SST Records on its side and showed that it’s okay to make a punk album by meshing unpunk elements. In fact, all of the best punk albums ever made did this.
One could validate that the Meat Puppets aren’t punk rock at all. Musically, that would probably be true. I like to think of the 80s Meat Puppets as punk, not just because of their label or their peers but because of the dust storm passion that burned inside them. I will repeat, it’s been a long time since then, but that storm has not dissipated, though their latest studio album may not be the best example.
Catch the Meat Puppets live these days and they still possess the same wild-eyed mania of a cowboy who’s been out in the country and away from society a bit too long. Which makes Sewn Together so perplexing. It’s like a flawless blacktop highway where there should be a dirt road. The production is crystal clear and the musicians do not seem intoxicated in any of the performances – to steal from one of the album’s lyrics, it’s a rotten shame.
Maybe it’s just that the band is self-conscious about thrashing about in their older age, and if anyone has caught a Bret Michaels concert lately, it’s hard to blame them. These guys have always been underrated musicians, and remaining original members Curt and Cris Kirkwood on guitar and bass, respectively, churn out some tight if slightly stale performances. Little of it sounds like prime Puppets, though some of it resembles their American underground peers. Blanket of Weeds unabashedly recalls Document-era R.E.M. while Clone possesses some of the retrospective nostalgia of a Replacements ballad.
If this was a band’s debut album, it would be a nice, pleasant first shot. But with the knowledge of what came before, too much of it sounds toothless or neutered. Sapphire sounds like a faint echo of one of Metallica’s sludgy slow ballads if Al di Meola was wielding the axe, and Blanket of Weeds sounds like 90s Meat Puppets – you know, the kind you don’t really remember.
As with most seasoned talents, there will always be good music to listen to on each release. On Sewn Together, you can find it on the gritty S.K.A. or the soppy Smoke, the latter of which is just so sentimental and Lifetime Movie-ish that it actually somehow slingshots back into the realm of enjoyability in a sort of camp, manipulative movie soundtrack kind of way. The one song that is genuine classic Meat Puppets is The Monkey and the Snake, which not only brings back the quirky whistling solo, a la The Whistling Song or Maiden’s Milk, but segues into an off-kilter sprint of guitar-reverb-psychedelia.
The name Sewn Together suggests the kind of ramshackle and haphazard production that has earned the band a much-deserved following. But it is deceiving. The album is not sewn together, it is manufactured. All the frayed edges are filed off and the loose ends tightened. It just happens to have the words Meat Puppets ironed on in nice, glossy text.