Hearing the Meat Puppets’ brand new CD, Dusty Notes, is an unexpected pleasure on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon–possibly because this Phoenix-based group has always reminded me of deserts as well as desert rats, a notion currently worlds away. I’ve combed through much of my writing about music over the last few years and I’ve discovered that I’ve never really talked about one of my favorite albums of all time, the Puppet’s 1985 LP Up on the Sun, which was one of those personal game-changers that suddenly influenced my musical tastes in a very profound way. I discovered Up on the Sun through chance–the LA Times’ Robert Hilburn raved about it and later that day I heard Rodney Bingenheimer play it on KROQ. I’d never heard anything like it before, a mix of drugged out and dusty psychedelia played with an unusual dollop of musical skill, performed by a former hardcore punk trio that suddenly had a few too many brews while staring at that big glowing orb in the Arizona sky.
Meat Puppets have had their ups and downs over the years–they peaked with breakthrough albums such as Mirage and Too High to Die, and again when Kurt Cobain revealed himself as a huge fan and covered three of their songs, with brothers Cris Kirkwood (bass, vocals) and Curt Kirkwood (guitars, vocals), and drummer Derrick Bostrom on stage with him for that MTV Unplugged set. The valleys were tough, however, with Cris dealing with severe substance abuse problems and Bostrom leaving the band in the mid ’90s. That led to Curt working with a revolving line-up of musicians in order to keep the Meat Puppets alive. Now, in 2019, we have Dusty Notes, featuring Kirkwood, Kirkwood and Bostrom together for the first time in more than two decades.
Dusty Notes is a much more polished affair than Up on the Sun–the Meat Puppets were always in the act of refining their sound over the years, which sometimes led to a sound that was very, well, un-Meat Puppety. What’s amazing about this new album is that the core of their sound, supplied by the three old friends, is still very much intact. Dusty Notes does expand beyond the sound of a mere post-punk trio thanks to contributions from keyboardist Rob Stabinsky and extra guitar work from Curt’s son Elmo. You’ll also hear plenty of banjo, harpsichord, and an overall feel that brings out the country and downplays the punk.
When it comes to seeing how Dusty Notes compares to Up on the Sun in the Meat Puppets’ catalog, it doesn’t. I’m not sure anything can, since the older album occupies such a unique place in alternative rock. But Dusty Notes deserves plenty of love and respect for resurrecting the sound of this unique trio, and for showing a new generation how lucky we are to have them back.
Find the CD/Vinyl on Amazon.
Band website: http://themeatpuppets.com/.