A friend of mine recently caught The Vaselines when they came to town. Considering he’s more of an alternative music fan than myself, I had to think quite carefully about what songs I had actually heard, soon realizing that the only reason why they had stayed in my mind was because Nirvana covered one of their songs, ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam’ for their MTV Unplugged performance.
Despite being around – minus a couple of hiatuses – since 1980, the Meat Puppets are like The Vaselines. They have been a relatively quiet but still an important presence in the alternative music scene, favored by those who make an effort to find them, or were turned onto them via Nirvana, who also covered a track of theirs, “Lake of Fire” also while on MTV Unplugged. After re-grouping in 2006 with the almost-original lineup of Curt and Cris Kirkwood and drummer Ted Marcus, their follow up, Sewn Together is a huge difference from what I remembered.
First, I must say that I haven’t listened to a Meat Puppets album since the grunge era, so revisiting a few of their past tracks and then sitting down to listen to their recent release was a trip. The one thing that stood out for me – and something that I wondered if I had previously picked up on this – back in the ’90’s - was the seamless blending of their musical influences-punk, alt-country, folk and plain ‘ol rock.
But it seems like with each song, the band has chosen to investigate a different approach (listen to “Split Myself in Two” from 2006’s Meat Puppets II and then listen to Sewn Together ). I am tempted to say that a bit of unevenness – one track sounding completely different from the next - might be a problem for listeners, but on the other hand, experimentation – or whatever it takes to keep the musicians excited about playing music – is not necessarily a bad thing. On the title track, the sunshiny ”Sewn Together”, there is a simplicity and an ease in the melodic vocal harmonies and the that gives the lighthearted track a warm tone.
Apparently, the Kirkwood brothers did not want to spend too much money on recording expenses, and it shows – in a good way. The album is bare-bones, focused on the producing the best instrumentals with no unnecessary frills or fuss. ”Blanket of Weeds” is a departure from the first track, taking the Meat Puppets back to their roots with a standard uptempo alternative rock tracks. The guitar on “Smoke” shines through, a simple, acoustic ballad, that despite it’s beautiful tones, is a bit drab.
Actually, the whole album, while bright and beautiful is a bit too ‘easy listening’ for me. Tracks like “Nursery Rhyme” and “Love Mountain” are beautiful, resplendent with lush harmonies and an easy tempos but besides the vocals, there is nothing that particularly stands out. Perhaps the Kirkwood brothers, now either 50 or pushing it, are simply just not the angry young men that they were 28 years ago, which is fine. But if you are looking for some beautiful and well-arranged music to play to lull your kids to sleep, fine, buy it, but if you are only familiar with early Meat Puppets albums, let’s hope you have mellowed with age.
Due to excessive partying back in the grunge days, my memory is a bit hazy, but I wonder now if I was enamored by the Meat Puppets because several other bands, such as my faves Dinosaur Jr., were inspired by them. Was it simply because Nirvana covered one of their songs? Regardless, one has to give a thumbs-up to longevity.