Friday, June 10, 2011

#36 Meat Puppets-II


Artist: Meat Puppets
Album: II
Label: SST
Year: 1984

Those middle-ground albums are the ones I love best. I find so often (and must have by now, at some point, indicated that on this blog) that the best albums are by bands in the middle of two points in their careers. Meat Puppets II is a perfect example of that: the band has begun to embrace lighter, more melodic tunes, but have certainly not fully abandoned their aggressive and far more ferocious roots. If any classic 80s punk record really doesn't fit in with its peers, it's Meat Puppets II.
Take a moment to think about the band and their music. They hailed from Arizona...far from the liberal establishments of San Fran, southern California, New York, and DC. Meat Puppets weren't just from a far-away land culturally, but musically as well. While The Replacements, yes, covered Hank Williams and Husker Du wore their 60s influence on their sleeves, I feel that there's a slight difference between how bands that weren't the Meat Puppets bore the influence of their parent's music. Of course youth from the late-70s and 1980s was going to have some of the 1960s rub off on them, but whether Black Flag doing "Louie Louie" or Minor Threat doing "Good Guys Don't Wear White," we just see punk bands emulating their garage rock forefathers. Even in Husker Du's "Eight Miles High," The Byrds' psychedelic high-point is run through that Husker Du system. The Meat Puppets, however, retained the aesthetics of the psychedelic years more concretely than many of their peers. "Oh, Me" uses effects perfectly, and the song drags along at a sloth-like pace, rather than amphetamine-driven fury. "Lost" like many other punk songs of the 1980s can be described as a "driving" song, with a rhythm that propels you. But it is not maniacal in a way that "Nervous Breakdown" is (or even, "My War" if we're sticking with 1984). It's more laid-back and easy going, not unlike a Big Star song.
None of this means that there aren't moments of menace or craze more in line with Meat Puppets as a punk band. "Split Myself in Two" the first track on the album is blisteringly fast and it seems that the singing can't even keep up with the song's delivery. "New Gods" is just as ferocious in every way.
But most of the album owes a lot to the 1960s. The poetry of "Plateau", the Nixon reference in "Lost" and the laid back instrumentals. After this album, Meat Puppets become just an undeniably softer band, for better or for worse (many others celebrate the late-80s period for the band). However, II's genius and perfection can't be under-appreciated. 1984 was a huge year for punk rock, and saw the release of many of the greatest records in the genre (several that appear on this list). Meat Puppets II though on the SST label, still feels like it occupies a world of its own. Spot's production is not as evident, and the songs sound like they're from a world outside of punk.

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