The more that I listen to the Meat Puppets the more it feels like they are one of the foundational bands of American alternative rock, setting the template for what was acceptable. When I was young and first encountering alternative, it felt like the diversity was baked in but original. The more I listen to some of the lesser known American alternative rock bands, the more I realize the diversity came from these post hardcore bands that decided they would not be limited by the rules laid down by punk.
To even call this post hardcore must seem very weird to anyone not familiar with the band’s history but, of course, they were once a (sort of) hardcore punk band. By this point they were something very, very different: a cowpunk/alt country band which indulged in psychedelia. I can honestly say I’m not sure if that subgenre existed prior to their previous record, but it is a real thing. And it’s one of those bizarre combinations of genres that somehow makes sense when you hear it, and which clearly showed a whole lot of younger people that you could mine the past for seemingly contradictory things to create something new.
The musicianship is up to snuff, as you might expect. The Kirkwood’s vocals are like a ruse, tricking your mind into thinking these guys are amateurs and don’t know what they are doing. Curt’s playing is particularly excellent, but the whole band is in fine form, such as when they are able to just play a funk song (“Away”) out of the blue. (There’s a fair amount of funk to this country rock album.) Or check out “Animal Kingdom” for an impressive intro showing off their abilities.
The one nitpick I have is the songwriting. I don’t think it’s just the delivery, but that doesn’t help. It does feel like there are a few half-baked ideas on here that could have been fleshed out a little bit more. (Though, I get it. That’s sort of the appeal of a record like this and this genre at the time.) With better songs I think it might be one of the alternative rock albums of the 1980s.