More and more it seems that what’s old is new again. Grey-haired indie rockers from the “Get in the Van” era are playing reunion tours, exposing the music that shaped today’s independent music scene to a new generation while providing nostalgia for the “all grown up” indie kids of yesteryear.
I was first exposed to the Meat Puppets, like so many others of my generation, via Nirvana’s performance on MTV Unplugged. The Kirkwood brothers took the stage alongside Cobain and company, breathing new life into classics ‘Lake of Fire’ and ‘Plateau’ from the landmark Meat Puppets II album. The early 90‘s single ‘Backwater’ started getting some airplay on alt-rock radio, and shortly after that I found myself digging through the Meat Puppets back catalogue at my local record stores (Today’s kids would probably just do a Mediafire search).
I eventually got my hands on the first Meat Puppets album, packed with 14 brutally short bursts of raw speed and noise, plus wailing and screaming that sounded like the drug-addled ramblings of a demented person. It was a complete 180° from the country-tinged mid-tempo numbers that populated Meat Puppets II. There were signs of things to come, however. The songs ‘Walking Boss’ and ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds’ featured slower tempos and some country-fried guitar picking, yet Curt Kirkwood’s vocals retained the abrasive quality that drew comparisons to Darby Crash of LA punk legends the Germs.
The record is incredibly dense and at times quite challenging to new listeners, even after a much-needed remaster, but underneath the rough exterior and apparent chaos are plenty of rewarding moments to discover. For instance, the standout instrumental ‘Our Friends’ brandishes distortion like a crude weapon, breaking up sprawling psychedelic interludes of ramshackle guitar skronk and wildly imaginative bass noodling.
Though the band’s songwriting would reach it’s apogee with the following record, the first Meat Puppets album is my personal favorite because it contrasts so greatly with what the Meat Puppets eventually became. The raw power, the energy, the glimpses of promise not yet delivered are as exciting to behold as the snarling guitar tones and blistering feedback bursts. This album sounds like nothing else, before it or since.
Besides remastering, the reissued version boasts the addition of several bonus tracks and alternate takes, including 1981’s ‘In a Car’ EP. The Meat Puppets, by the way, are still at it after two breakups and plenty of interpersonal turmoil. Their 13th studio LP, ‘Lollipop’ is out now via the band’s website.
Meat Puppets – Our Friends