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Meat Puppets
Sewn Together (reissue) Mick Middles , June 17th, 2009 06:53

It ages me visibly to note that, to Meat Puppets aficionados, the 'golden years' are believed to lie between 1979 and 1985, through three ground-breaking lo-fi albums and one EP that effectively built the template for American indie. The problem with Meat Puppets is not where it all went wrong but, where indeed, did it all go right? Throughout the 80s and 90s they evolved to a level of musicality that, in a somewhat beautiful irony, reacted against the freshness that had lay at their heart. Worse still….they found themselves mooching around plush studios and smooth contractual producers. It may, in 2009, seem an archaic battle but, arguably more than any other band, Meat Puppets suffered from record company interference and, frankly, far too much money. Not that the intervening albums - a further seven - were ever allowed to dip below their self-imposed quality level. There remained a disparate freedom to their music - good songs too, lest we forget - even if the US industry machine continued to apply the polish.

So it was truly rewarding to discover Sewn Together, to find that Meat Puppets (Curt and Cris Kirkwood still at the helm, now augmented by full-time drummer Ted Marcus) had fallen into the hands of an artist-friendly label (Megaforce Records) and a reborn desire to get back to those essential basics.

Sewn Together was the band's second full length album in two years and, like its predecessor, it relates back to a time when they would thrash out an album with an abandon that may have seemed reckless, but certainly suited their mood and musical stance. Meat Puppets work better at lightning speed.

The result - and the result of minimal A&R tinkering, I would suggest - is a truly disparate collection of songs that swing loosely from edge of modern Americana to the gritty heart of indie. To almost dizzying effect, the album spits back and forth, from deft country picking to jaunty highway blues to, in places, a full on rock out. The spontaneity is infectious throughout, the unifying factor being Curt's amiable, almost joyful vocals.

"You are living lie a dusty bone," he lightly offers on line three and, from that moment, you are locked into a ferocious rush of creativity. Curiously, even though Curt himself admits that some of the songs are "half-finished," this is not an album of jarring rawness. No Fall-esque tendencies to unlearn the musical process here. Quite the reverse, the spontaneity is a testament to the confidence the trio have in their own musicality.

For the most part, it works to stunning effect. Time and time again on my first play through I found myself zipping back to the start of a song, unable to quite comprehend what is going on here. The complex textures of 'Blanket of Weeds', for example, offer depth with a pure psychedelic heart…the song spins into a lovely cacophony and ends as a fine train wreck. This is how Mick Farren's Deviants might have sounded if they had ever bothered to learn to play. The effect is all the more startling as the next song, 'I'm Not You', begins with a guitar that could have been stolen from a strung out Johnny Cash. This is a musical vision of paranoid small town Americana that would make David Lynch flinch. Extraordinary.

Meat Puppets are seemingly unafraid to plunder from unlikely areas. For some reason, despite the fact that this is a quintessentially American product, it reminds me of early 70s Notting Hill, a time when psychedelia gained a dark streetwise edge... as if the drugs were just a little bit dodgy. Despite that, Sewn Together also has a summer vibe. It is vast in ambition, amiable in execution and fully rewarding, summer listening with a multitude of twists.