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Meat Puppets

Meat Puppets

1982

The Meat Puppets debut album has practically nothing in common with the sun-baked, melodic, hippy-dippy desert rock that would characterize their next two classic albums.  This is basically a hardcore punk record, and not a particularly good one at that.  It's more funny than anything else.  The production quality is pretty poor, and Curt Kirkwood sounds like a deranged alcoholic grunting incoherently most of the album.  Suffice to say this is not a particularly good album, and definitely not a good respresentation of the Meat Puppet's sound.  It's worth a listen if you're curious, and while it might give you a few chuckles now and then, unfortunately this album is more headache inducing than anything else.

6.3

Meat Puppets II

Meat Puppets

1984

MPII is a drastic departure from their loud, chaotic, punky (and kind of shitty) debut album.  MPII introduces the sun-baked, hippy-dippy, spacy yet intricate melodic desert-rock that would come to characterize the band's sound in this era.  Some of the melodies explored here are sublimely beautiful, almost transcendently spacey at times, but very well done.  MPII also has a indie/punkish quality to it, as some of the songs are pretty up-tempo, but for the most part, MPII is an earnest, humble, somewhat subdued album.  It's special...for someone that grew up in the middle of nowhere in a desolate, semi-arid climate, and who has explored some truly beautiful desert landscapes across Texas, NM, AZ, Cali, NV, etc...this album sounds like the energy in that space.  It's the aural equivalent of that.  Up On the Sun is actually more-so the epitome of that vibe, but MPII has a bit more quirkiness and variety to it, making it the slightly better album, and arguably the best from the Pups.

8.9

Up On The Sun

Meat Puppets

1985

Up On The Sun delves deeper into the noodling, sun-baked melodies that characterized most of MPII.  The eccentric and occasionally spastic nature of MPII is somewhat missed here, but for what UOTS lacks in that department, it more than makes up for in the spacey melody arena.  This is probably the most relaxing (for lack of a better term) MP album they ever made, and it's also probably their most melodic.  This album doesn't sound remotely like anything else created in 1985, so it gets extra kudos for that.  Granted, the melodies on this album transcend time and space, and some of it sounds like it wasn't even record on this planet, much less a particular era on this planet.  Anyway, it's really beautifully done, and evokes a feeling of sun-burnt mind-numbing bliss that only an isolated desert existence can provide.  It's the soundtrack for driving through the desert, or maybe the mountains, somewhere out in the great American West.  It's got that kind of state of mind to it...sun-baked desert bliss, with more than a few quirks to boot.

8.8

Mirage

Meat Puppets

1987

Arriving 2 years after two fantastically unique albums (Meat Puppets II and Up On The Sun) Mirage can't help but sound like a disappointment.  It would have been quite a task to match the sun-baked bliss and quirkiness of those classic albums, but the fact that Mirage simply isn't nearly as good as those two albums actually makes it sound worse than it actually is.  In a nutshell, the production has changed from the earthy, stripped-down sound of their prior albums to a more processed, metallic sound that was characteristic of the era.  The addition of more keyboards, along with the over-processed sheen of the album, ultimately dilutes the spunkiness and quirkiness of most of these songs.  The Pups always had an amateurish charm about them, but the production/style here makes them sound flat and somewhat bland overall.  And whereas their prior albums had a generally sunny sound to them, Mirage sounds drab and murky by comparison.  So, suffice to say it's not in the same league as the two albums that preceded it, and in the grand scheme of things, not a particularly amazing album in general.

7.8

Huevos

Meat Puppets

1987

Released later in the same year as the flat and disappointing Mirage, Huevos sports a fairly different flavor/vibe, but is unfortunately similar in quality to the aforementioned album.  Huevos sports a more straight-ahead (albeit modest) rock sound, which kind of sounds like a very amateurish version of ZZ Top.  It's got that kind of punch/tempo to it, but once again everything sounds a little too watered down here.  Fortunately, there's less keyboards/syntheziers to be found here, and while that is a welcome change, overall, the actual songs here are just a bit too underwhelming, and the general sameness of the music contributes to Huevos' unassuming and mediocre vibe. 

Whereas MPII and Up on the Sun sounded like they were playing on another plain of existence, creating an enchanting/earnest/otherworldly vibe, Huevos sounds uninspired and somewhat mechanical by comparison.  The Pups were in the process of changing their style in 1987, and Huevos is more a reflection of the sound they would ultimately come to perfect on 1991's Forbidden Places.  Here they're just kind of trying it out, and while Huevos is not a bad album, ultimately it pales in comparison to their classics from a few years earlier, and the full realization of this sound on Forbidden Places.  It's kind of stuck in the middle unfortunately, which makes for an underwhelming listening experience.

7.9

Monsters

Meat Puppets

1989

Released a good 2 years after the 1-2 punch (or should I say "1-2 gentle shoves") of Mirage and Huevos, Monsters once again finds the Meat Puppets treading in mediocore waters.  Monsters definitely has more in common with the more direct, hard-rock flavored Huevos, but they attempt to add a little bit more bite on Monsters, which sports an almost metal vibe at times (at least riff-wise).  The problem is even when the Meat Puppets jam out, it still sounds flat and a little underwhelming.  Granted, part of the Meat Puppets appeal is their amateurish/burn-out charm, and Monsters does have that quality at times, but there's just not really any memorable songs here.  They're all either very average or slightly above (similar to Huevos).  So again, while not a bad album, it's another step away from the magically melodic and quirky classics that made the Pups so lovable in the first place.

7.6

Forbidden Places

Meat Puppets

1991

Somewhat surprisingly, and seemingly out of nowhere, the Meat Puppets ended up releasing this, their best album in 1991.  I say that because, generally speaking, their prior 3 albums all left something to be desired (to say the least).  Their amateurish and half-baked take on ZZ-Top style rock just sounded a little flat, but the Pups were able to hone the best traits of that style and ended up succeeding with flying colors on Forbidden Places.  Not only is the sound/attack significantly improved, but practically every song here is actually catchy as hell.  These songs sound professional and streamlined, while still retaining the Meat Puppets classic brand of sun-baked, stonerish charm.  When the Meat Puppets jam-out on Forbidden Places, it actually works and sounds fun.  When they focus on the melody, the results are often times beautiful and enchanting, somewhat recalling the spiritually endearing vibe of the best songs from MPII and Up On the Sun.  And, again, what really impresses is just how good the individual songs are.  As good as MPII and Up on the Sun were, they weren't exactly packed with great songs, but the variety and transcendent quality of those albums are what really stood out.  On Forbidden Places, the Pups just keep pumping out great (or at least very good) songs after songs, and it's really a treat to listen to.

While MPII and Up on the Sun are undisputed classics in their catalog, and the Pups will never be able to replicate that style/sound/vibe, Forbidden Places is their most well-rounded, accessible, and infectious album.  A lot to like here, and probably my favorite album of theirs for yours truly.

9.0

Too High To Die

Meat Puppets Too High to Die.jpg

Meat Puppets

1994

Too High to Die is an interesting album for the Meat Puppets, in that it was recorded during grunge and alternative-rock's heyday (1993).  You can tell the Pups are trying to go for a slightly more accessible sound here, sporting a somewhat more earnest, slacker-type of vibe that was very much of the era.  They do this well on the fairly basic (yet undeniably catchy) "Backwater", which scored the band their first minor hit, but most of the rest of the album sounds like a struggle to package the Meat Puppets in a trendy grungy box.  Whereas Forbidden Places sounded naturally smooth and infectious, Too High to Die sounds a little jagged at times, like it's a battle between the Pup's more quirky tendencies vs. an attempt to be more accessible. So the results are pretty hit and miss for the most part, but the highlights on the album come when the band plays to their strengths and do what comes naturally to them.  Case in point is the breezy "Flaming Heart", and the delightfully hokey "Comin' Down", which is one of my all-time favorite Meat Puppets songs.  Overall, Too High to Die has never been a fully satisfying listening experience for yours truly, although it certainly has it's moments.

8.0

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