Review Summary: A welcome, albeit uneven reunion album from the Meat Puppets that will reward after repeated listens
The Meat Puppets are in my opinion one of America’s greatest bands. Starting out in the early 1980’s as an extremely messy, erratic hardcore band, they blossomed throughout the decade and released two absolute classic albums, ‘Meat Puppets II’ and ‘Up on the Sun’, which blended punk, country, folk psychedelia to create something that was very out of step with what their peers were doing. In the mid 90’s they finally achieved some mainstream recognition when a very famous fan, Kurt Cobain, invited them to take part in Nirvana’s appearance on MTV Unplugged.
Over a decade on from their brief flirtation with the mainstream, a lot may have changed, but this album is the first to feature both Kirkwood brothers since 1995’s ‘No Joke’. In the intervening years, bassist Cris battled drug addiction and was shot and jailed, but the only thing stopping this from being a full reunion album was the absence of original drummer Derrick Bostrom.
So, what does it sound like? Well, Curt Kirkwood has thankfully abandoned his embrace of the slick, mid-tempo rock that blighted 2000’s Golden Lies. This album sees a return to hazy atmospherics, psychedelic guitar stylings and subtle melodic beauty. Curt’s unique vocals are also present and correct, and lend snail-paced album opener ‘Fly with the Wind’ a truly eerie feel. In fact this track sets the precedent for the rest of the album. These songs are SLOW, and you have to be in the right mood to listen to them, or they will drift right by you. Thankfully, these guys still know how to write a melody, and the banjo driven ‘Tiny Kingdom’ and synth driven ‘The Ship’ should keep you coming back for repeat listens.
After the blissful first four tracks, the album goes off track slightly with ‘Enemy Love Song’, a cheesy cod-reggae song that was probably put on here with the express intention of annoying people, while ‘Island’ is just bland. This mid-section of the album is where Rise To Your Knees will test the patience of even the biggest Meat Puppets fans, as some of these songs coast along with barely noticeable melodies and a distinct lack of energy. Thankfully things pick up again with ‘Stone Eyes’, a blissful song that combines a gently loping verse with downright catchy chorus, and the synth driven ‘The Ship’ shows that this is still a band that is looking to expand its sound. Album ender ‘Light the Fire’ chugs along for six minutes under a storm of vocoder vocals, annoying wah-wah guitars and general self indulgence, but the Meat Puppets are one of the few bands who can do this sort of thing and get away with it.
Ultimately, Rise To Your Knees was never going to garner the band thousands of new fans, but this album was never about that. Instead, it’s the sound of a band rediscovering itself again, and there is enough on show here to indicate that this is a band that still have plenty of great songs left to write.