Sound — 8
Meat Puppets are undoubtedly best known for starring in Nirvana's hallowed unplugged concert in 1993, so listeners can be forgiven for expecting another Sub Pop style grunge band. The Meat Puppets prove to be a much bigger curiosity than this, serving up offbeat folk romps and often coming across as a spoof act.
Many tracks on the album are less than 3 minutes long, adding to little more than a half hour running time. A couple of the tracks are instrumentals, most notably "Aurora Borealis," an album highlight and a good example of the band's overall sound. The chugging riff and beat, punctuated with fluttering, phaser-soaked leads, slots with the "Lake of Fire" formula. Quasi-psychedelic blues overtones achieved via delay and phaser are a staple throughout, as are rambling basslines and singer Curt Kirkwood's nasal, deliberately indifferent drawl. There are a couple of heavier punk tunes, including the opener "Split Myself in Two," which proves to be a red herring. These couple of punk tracks aren't in conflict with the mellower songs on the album, as they are united by the band's faux-folk storytelling approach and slacker sound, but its important to note that the few punk tracks merely make up the numbers and aren't representative of the album's heart.
Lyrics — 7
This is not a confessional, political or commercial album. Lyrics mostly borrow from the mundane lived experience, often using domestic props such as the bucket and mop in "Plateau" and the clutter on the table in "Climbing." At its best the lyrics are introspective, with the clever line "time doesn't exist but its playing on my mind" from "Climbing," and "Oh Me" and "Plateau" sounding like an existential crisis. Meat Puppets are definitely products of an apathetic and cynical age, and I would pinpoint the lack of ambition or a coherent message in their songs as why it's so averse to the mainstream market. Before Nirvana, this band can't have been very commercially viable, but now the situation has flipped, many are opposed to the avalanche of what we call whiny, hipster bands, which would perhaps be this band's embodiment were it not for their bit of extra musical flavouring.
Overall Impression — 7
The album is inoffensive but dispensable to the modern listener, until fourth track "Plateau" picks up the quality considerably. I imagine changing times and trends have definitely effected perception of this album. To me, Meat Puppets, save a handful of tracks, do not feel as wild and rebellious as they probably did to a young Cobain, as the grunge movement subverted expectations and made nerd rock the norm. This is similar to how I feel listening to the Pixies in 2014 - they are ok, have their moments of brilliance, but I am dubious about people born after the '70s referencing them as a favourite band. For what reason? Perhaps our struggle to satirize a world that has purged the depths of self-consciousness to the point of apathy is the real root of rock 'n' roll's cultural redundancy, as absurdism, anti-music and anti-culture have become well-trodden terrain. The band's blasé persona doesn't detract from the fact there are some real nuggets here lyrically and especially musically, though I am undecided whether their kitsch style is genius or a little too contrived, and the album doesn't consistently meet the quality of "Plateau," "Lake of Fire," "Oh Me" and "Aurora Borealis."