Release Date: Apr 12, 2011
Record label: Megaforce
Ever since bassist and co-founder Cris Kirkwood returned to the band in 2007 with the album Rise to Your Knees, the Meat Puppets have been striving to re-create the glorious sounds of their salad days in the 1980s and ‘90s, but they seem to have made a number of rather odd lateral moves on 2011's Lollipop. The album is much more of a studio creation than its most recent predecessors; Curt Kirkwood's guitars dominate the album, but along with layering several parts on many tunes, he's added synthesizers on several numbers, and the polished sheen of the recording tends to muffle the sense of interplay between the musicians and flattens out the vocals. (Shandon Sahm is credited as drummer on Lollipop, but the sound of the percussion and the simplicity of the beats suggest that a drum machine may actually be doing the work most of the time.
Punk rock is largely about context. It is also about confounding expectations and challenging convention, and for the greatest punk bands this applies as much to confronting and offending the values of their own audience as it does to railing against some abstract, paranoid notion of 'the man'. Thus, when Black Flag, disillusioned with the restrictions of the hardcore scene from which they had emerged, decided to grow their hair long and fill side two of their 1984 record My War with three painfully slow six-minute-plus sludge metal numbers, it was the most punk rock thing they could have done.
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.
Not everyone mellows as they age. Just most of us. Whatever the medium, but especially in music, the most outlandish stuff tends to come first. But this natural swing toward calm and control can be hell on musicians who made their names playing startling, violent, or unhinged music. That sort of ….
The fact that these titans of the US underground have collectively hoovered enough drugs and booze (and clocked enough jail time) to make [a]Pete Doherty[/a] sit up and wonder makes their sheer longevity something to be marvelled at. The psychedelic punk assault of days gone by may have mellowed through the passing of time to an acid-blanched jangle, but the juddering grunge thump of [b]‘Orange’[/b] and the playful reggae-fied clamour of [b]‘Shave It’[/b] sound anything but weary. That actually-rather-fine opener [b]‘Incomplete’[/b] bears a baffling resemblance to po-faced ’80s types Ultravox can be overlooked; there’s clearly plenty of life in the muckers yet.
A return to classic form on Lollipop would be nearly impossible for the Meat Puppets, a band whose initial career arc divided neatly across three discrete styles: the wooly post-punk of their first three albums, the squiggly rock of their late-‘80s output, and the mainstream shift of their post-Nirvana period. The band’s newest incarnation, one that has appeared over the three albums since their 2006 reunion, is less a new approach than a combination of the previous three, taking viable parts and reshaping them into a safe but still interesting new mode. This can be a dreary prospect at times.
The Meat Puppets' third album since brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood reunited in 2007 concludes with a smattering of studio talk that will likely strike fans as typical of the band: "I don't know, I could probably do it better," offers Curt, breathing heavy. The Meat Puppets embody that sense of nonchalant self-deprecation alongside a propensity for brash, fuck-all attitude. With Shandon Sahm back behind the kit, Lollipop pales somewhat next to 2009's critically acclaimed peak reunion disc Sewn Together, yet it pushes effectively into different directions beyond the sludgy, slurred guitars of their synonymous 1990s style.