Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets II - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets II

by Mark Moody Rating:10 Release Date:1984-04-01
Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets II
Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets II

Roman numerals are pretentious.  The fact those highfalutin ancients refer to them as “numerals”, as opposed to just numbers, is proof positive.  If you need more evidence about Roman numerals and their high horse status, look no further than Super Bowl LIII.  I can’t wait for Super Bowl MMM. Though I already have plans with a long-haired friend of mine, I understand the Jonas Brothers and Hanson have already been booked out for half-time.  Roman numerals are also very popular in rock music and are usually just as pretentious.  They portend something bloated and dramatic like Chicago XXXVI.  If Chicago XL (which should be coming up soon) is not a massively produced box-set someone should lose their job. 

There have been some more humble album titles using the awe-inspiring digits though.  Sebadoh III for example, or what brings us here today, Meat Puppets II.  I don’t think these shaggy little bands were showing a flair for the dramatic.  More like the record label needed a name pronto.  Those lower level Roman numerals are a little more meek and mild, like the first few miserable tally marks etched in a prisoner’s cell.

If you don’t know much about Meat Puppets (or the Pups as their fans like to call them) or Meat Puppets II the good news is you don’t need to go far into their catalog to stumble upon their masterpiece.  The band was formed by brothers Curt (the main Pup) and Cris Kirkwood and their drummer friend Derrick Bostrom (great rock ’n’ roll name by the way and think he also played bass for Spinal Tap) in Phoenix in the early 80s.  Nearly a footnote in the punk rock annals, the band switched direction for their second album and, as the saying goes, captured lightning in a bottle.  Lightning infused with a bit of mescaline perhaps.

The album is a brief thirty minutes of primarily brisk songs, including a few instrumentals.  Their punk roots are evident in the opening ‘Split Myself In Two’, though the song's buzzy roar masks an underlying frailty.  The song and many that follow feel on the verge of collapse like some tottering wooden structure built way too high.  Like the razor in the shoe of the song, Curt’s vocals are thin but somehow get the job done over the course of the album. 

By mixing in a bit of regional cowpunk flavoring with a dash of the exotic the band finds a vein well worth mining.  If you’ve ever wanted to pogo to country music, ‘Lost’ is the song for you.  It’s an infectious and fractured three minutes of brilliance that happily hops along.  The reference to “nobody knows which way it’s gonna bend” would be a good summation for the album itself, but is also what gives II its charm.  And Curt’s feeble complaint of living Nixon’s mess feels refreshingly quaint in America’s current quandary.  ‘Plateau’ is littered with mysterious references to Greenland, Mexico and an “illustrated book about birds”.  Places and things that must be out there but are more fantastic to just be imagined.

The latter half of the album continues to reveal treasures on its journey through the Arizona desert.  Similar to ‘Lost’, ‘Climbing’ picks and grins its way along accompanied by Curt’s lazy croon.  The tightly wound tension that starts ‘New Gods’ gives way to an off to the races rave-up about drinking Pepsi at a restaurant south of the border.  There’s a punk ethos for you.  ‘Oh, Me’ has a Crazy Horse looseness to it and guitar soloing to match.  While ‘Lake of Fire’ again conjures up something imagined but at the same time tangibly troubling.  A place where bad folks go when they die and then return as fireworks seems fully plausible in Curt’s telling of it. 

Intricate instrumentals bob and weave throughout the proceedings, with the penultimate ‘I’m A Mindless Idiot’ being the most toe-tapping example.  But the closing ‘Whistling Song’ sums things up as well as anything here.  It sounds like it’s going to be a full-on cover of the Beatle’s ‘Revolution’ but quickly morphs to another loping little ditty.  Complete with whistling of course, because that makes perfect sense and that’s the name of the song.  Curt lets us know that “I don’t pull the lock back, and I don’t have the key”.  As if Meat Puppets II came in a fevered dream and committed itself to tape.  And maybe that’s how Curt’s Starry Night inspired cover art came to be as well.

It would be hard to say that I’m a Meat Puppets fan as much as a standard bearer for Meat Puppets II.  That doesn’t include whatever misguided “bonus tracks” were appended here.  Just listen to a few seconds of ‘Teenager(s)’ to totally kill the buzz of the true album.  There’s a reason Kurt Cobain played three(!) covers from this album on Unplugged when there was plenty of other Pups’ material at that point.  And a reason The Minutemen recorded one of their loosest tracks in ‘Lost’ not too long after the original came out.  I’m sure bands have a love/hate relationship with albums like this that create an unhealthy rabidity in people.  People like me that end up only having a mild interest that the original lineup is back together and getting ready to release a new album.  It’s as if II is an entity unto itself that, though the band created, is able to live its own life untethered.  I’ve listened to Up On the Sun and Huevos at least a few times each and some others at least once, but anyone that tells you that any of those are their favorites are either lying or just being pretentious.  Kind of like those Romans.             

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