Meat Puppets – [Album]

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It's funny how, as time has worn on, changes in the music industry and technology have completely changed how music is consumed. For a while, as albums from the punk and alt-rock explosions came of age and grew in mythos, many of those releases that were considered keystone or genre-defining reappeared on store shelves. Often, they'd come bearing remastered treatments and with extra songs appended to entice those fans that already bought the music once to buy it again. It was always sort of a guilty purchase for the average buyer, but it was also sort of neat to see what new gems had been pulled from the vaults; some of those tracks that originally fell by the wayside even proved to be genuine buried treasures; the reissue of Pavement's Slanted & Enchanted was like that, as was the edition of Meat Puppets II minted in 1999.

Times have changed though. The coffers of unreleased material are finite, after all, and after a decade of reissuing back catalogue titles, the pool of material not already part of public domain is drying up – even if interest in some bands and their releases hasn't. For example, the Meat Puppets II album continues to exert mystique even now; even after it has been repackaged and re-presented no less than six times by different labels and in different labels and in different formats since it first came out on SST in 1984.

So what's the difference this time? This time around, the release of Meat Puppets II uses the medium as the selling point over the material. The twelve cuts that originally comprised the album (six per side) are present with no bells, whistles or additional content. It is (outside of some remastering) a genuine reissue in that no effort has been made to tantalize fans that already have the album in one form or another. In this case, the first sell is the bragging rights that come with possession of this delicate and wildly collectible medium.

…And, while it might sound like a crack-pot thing to say, the medium and the production it boasts is a great big step in the right direction, in this case.

The complaint that most everyone has had about Meat Puppets II almost since the day of its release is that, while the songs are good, listening to them takes a bit of getting used to. Why? Because the sound (no matter the medium – CD tape or record) has always had a bit of a clipped edge that, combined with the decidedly grainy, SST-vintage punk production, can occasionally feel as though razors are being shot into one's ears at worst or like a series of paper cuts across your eardrums on the easier parts. Simply said, it is the difference between the molten (but flat) sound of “Lake Of Fire” and the rough and sort of stoned miasma of “Oh, Me” – occasionally jarring at points, but always grainy. Much of that grain evaporates on the Analogue Series edition of the LP. The rethought production and notoriously warm sonic aura of the vinyl medium combine harmoniously this time on Meat Puppets II and, because much of the grain was lost in the remaster, what listeners get is a series of polished songs rather than budget hack-jobs. This way, while “Oh, Me” still sounds a bit lobotomized, “Plateau” still sounds nervous and “Lake Of Fire” still cooks, they each go down much easier with listeners here because it sounds less stiff and more organic.

In addition, the new clarity provides new insight into just how far the Puppets were treading from their initial pseudo-hardcore salvos on In A Car and Meat Puppets. The intricate and surprisingly tight country-style chicken pickin' in “Magic Toy Missing” and the amphetamine-fueled countrified rock of “Lost” alone place the Meat Puppets miles beyond their rather ham-fisted SST brethren at the time and even speak to the possibility of alt-country years before the term or style was even a glimmer in anyone's eye. Listening to Meat Puppets II is remarkable because it isn't as if anything was changed, per se, so much as that here, between the remastering work done and the improved ambiance of each track, Meat Puppets II gets new life and inspiration breathed into it.

You're skeptical – I can tell. “Is it worth buying again?” is inevitably the question that begs an answer here and, without meaning to come off as cryptic, it really boils down to who you are and what your sensibilities are. The truth is that this reissue of Meat Puppets II won't be for everybody; whether because the individual in question can't justify buying the same record again or they feel like they'll be getting less content for more money (the 1999 CD edition boasts seven more tracks than the Analogue Series release), it won't be the sort of purchase you're looking for. If, however, you were already a fan but something about the previous releases just rubbed you the wrong way (some of the production qualities weren't great over the years), or if you're a newer fan that got hooked on a later album (like Rise To Your Knees or Sewn Together) and want to get back to the band's roots, the Analogue Series edition of Meat Puppets II is worth it if you have the means.


Meat Puppets myspace/homepage


Meat Puppets II Analogue Series edition is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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