Graded on a Curve:
Meat Puppets,
Huevos

Arizona’s Meat Puppets’ musical career has worked according to some as yet undetermined law of evolution. Most bands hit upon a sound early on, then tinker with the formula. Not so with Meat Puppets. They veered off in totally unpredictable new directions on each of their first three LPs, and I defy anyone unfamiliar with their work to sit down and listen to them then tell me they’re by the same band.

Meat Puppets’ self-titled 1982 debut was perhaps the only psychedelic hardcore LP ever released, and so fucked up in so many ways–vocalist and guitarist Curt Kirk deliberately made sure you couldn’t understand a single word he was singing–that hardcore kids didn’t know what to make of it.

Similarly, on 1984’s Meat Puppets II the band went lysergic cowpoke with a bunch of twisted country songs that sounded nothing like the by-the-numbers retro that fell under the label of cowpunk. And they reinvented themselves yet again with 1985’s Up on the Sun, a shambolic and sun-baked slice of oddly syncopated songs boasting lyrics that proved vocalist/guitarist Curt Kirkwood to be a a goofy and good-natured desert mystic.

1987’s Mirage was a clear (if not as good) sequel to Up on the Sun, and at long last it seemed they’d found their niche. But Huevos, released later that year, made it clear they weren’t done changing skin. Huevos is often referred to as Meat Puppets’ “ZZ Top Record,” and “Paradise” and “Automatic Mojo” are the primary reasons why–both sounded like twisted outtakes from Afterburner. On a less overt note, Meat Puppets upped both the volume and intensity to ZZ Top levels, a radical move given the band’s machismo-free outlook on life in general. Even Kirkwood’s normally conversational vocals boast muscle.

“Paradise” is ZZ Top minus the beards, and listening to it puts you on a hotrod purring down a straight-line back road with the cool desert air blowing through your hair. “Automatic Mojo” is badass Southwest Boogie straight off the assembly line; the guitar riff is a monster, and Kirkwood sings until his voice cracks. And there’s a lot of Billy Gibbons’ guitar in “Dry Rain,” an honest-to-god song about an honest-to-God real issue (ecology) , which comes as a downright shock from three guys who live so far out on the psychic power grid that the only news they get is from the UFOs hovering over Area 54.

On the bass driven cruiser “Look at the Rain” Kirkwood’s the hometown sartorial cock of the walk (“I got a shirt that cost a dollar twenty-five/I know I’m the best dressed man alive”), and his idea of a good time is heading down to the dime store to watch the rain fall. He also calls himself “a messed up torn down worthless bag of trouble,” but you don’t get the idea he’s an actual menace to anyone, just as he doesn’t sound like much of a louse on the high octane, but very funny, “I Can’t Be Counted On.” No, he’s simply not the sort of boyfriend you turn to for household repairs (“I’ll come out to your house/And attempt to fix your sink/Do a mediocre job” and he goes on from there).

“Bad Love” works on some great chukka chukka guitar and Kirkwood’s cryptic lyrics (“Now here’s the problem/There’s nothing wrong”). And speaking of cryptic, I like the part near the end when brother (and bass player) Kris Kirkwood starts singing about Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio. There could be a reason for their appearance in said song, but I’m betting it’s a bong talking.

On “Sexy Music”Kirkwood does some fantasy wishing (“Build a mighty tower/Especially for me/Fill the tower up with food/The kind I love to eat”), then waxes poetic on the subject of Eros on the choruses:

“Unearthly visions filled my head
As I lay there and sexy music
Tumbled all around
And then the music turned to
Emerald feathered goblins
That cast their burning pearls
To the ground.”

I love the emerald feathered goblins part–goblins rarely show up in love songs. I also like the way somebody keeps saying “sexy music” in a very mock-sexy voice. These guys can’t do anything with a straight face.

On “Crazy” Kirkwood’s hoarse to the point of cracking vocals place him squarely in Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night School of “Who gives a fuck if I’m hitting the notes?” And what does he think’s so crazy? Well, he’s got a job for starters. And it could be his first one, by the sound of it. “Fruit” finds Kirkwood in the Garden of Eden with apples, oranges, watermelons, pomegranates, and cherries, and he’s eating his full while the band does its trademark syncopated choogle.

Huevos is the work of a great American band that makes a virtue of inconstancy; you never know what crazy goddamn direction they’ll head off in next. Or what off-kilter spin they’ll put on the genres they chose to explore. Their hardcore didn’t sound like anybody else’s hardcore, their cowpunk didn’t sound like anybody else’s cowpunk–they don’t fit in anywhere and they’re happy about it. If it’s predictability you’re looking for in a band, look elsewhere. Meat Puppets can’t be counted on at all.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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  • Manuel

    Good read, thank you.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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