May 12, 2009

Shortcuts—Meat Puppets

The Meat Puppets may be nearly 30 years old, but they show no sign of slowing down. A major influence on such bands as Nirvana, Pavement, and Soundgarden, the Puppets continue to deliver their unique brand of punk mixed with country and psychedelic rock. But despite its spotty originality, Sewn Together, the band’s 14th studio album, seems to be missing more than just the distinct sound of their original drummer, Derrick Bostrom.

The brothers Curt (guitarist/vocalist) and Cris Kirkwood (bassist) still front the band, accompanied by the drummer Ted Marcus. Sewn Together features significant improvements in Curt’s vocal work. In a recent interview with, Cris said that Curt was more open to utilizing the brothers’ famed harmonies on the new album, a noticeable change which enhances many of the vocal lines.

Sewn Together also features the enigmatic and engaging lyrics that are characteristic of every Meat Puppets album. “This is the story of the history of night/from the beginning it has never seen the light/it takes awhile to never understand/it holds the gift of darkness in its hand,” Curt sings in the title song. A beautiful tapestry of sound still buoys these lyrics; Curt and Cris are almost never content to sustain a note, applying numerous layers of instrumentation and Curt’s distinctive arpeggio picking.

So what’s missing from Sewn Together that was so apparent on classic Puppets albums like Too High to Die and cult favorite Meat Puppets II. Actually, nothing, at least on standout cuts “Rotten Shame,” “The Monkey and the Snake,” and “Love Mountain,” all of which feel as if they were tracks culled from earlier Meat Puppet releases. However, the rest of the album, while pleasant, fails to distinguish itself without the band’s trademark riffs or distinct vocal and instrumental lines.

While it has some bright spots, Sewn Together lacks consistency and cohesion as an album and it seems cobbled together. While hardcore Puppets fans might still enjoy the album, I recommend going to see the Kirkwood brothers on the new release tour stopping by Chicago on May 30 and 31.

—Anjali Verghis