[25 May 2009]
Though the band was sadly omitted from Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s fantastic account of US indie music in the 1980s, the Meat Puppets didn’t let that stop them from joining their peers in the post-millennium reunion trend. Of course, the Puppets faced a slightly more insurmountable set of obstacles than Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr.—most notably, bassist Cris Kirkwood’s year-plus of jail time for assaulting a post office security guard in Phoenix, Arizona in 2003 (not to mention the serious gunshot wounds he sustained in the altercation). But that didn’t prevent the band from reuniting (with Ted Marcus in place of original drummer Derrick Bostrom) in 2006, a move that resulted in 2007’s Rise to Your Knees and a subsequent tour of the US.
Despite its weaknesses, Rise to Your Knees was warmly received, although not at a level on par with Dinosaur Jr.‘s Beyond, released the same year. Yet brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood have managed to retain the momentum of their reunion with another new album and tour just two years later. In many ways, Sewn Together suffers from the same problem as its predecessor—namely, that the Kirkwoods have somehow been deluded into thinking that their brief brush with major-label stardom in the mid-1990s represents the high point of the band’s career. For those who don’t know the story, the Kirkwoods appeared as guests with Nirvana on MTV Unplugged to perform a trio of classic Meat Puppets covers, thereby cementing a fleeting moment in the spotlight that placed the band among the era’s one-hit wonders in the minds of many.
Rise to Your Knees perpetuated that myth by essentially picking up where the Gold-certified Too High to Die left off, a solid set of experimental-leaning alternative rock that found the Puppets’ trademark surrealism tempered within easily digestible song structures. Unfortunately, fans hoping for a return to the more idiosyncratic approach of the band’s truly classic 1980s material will likely come away disappointed once again with Sewn Together. Although the band remains on an independent label—oddly enough, Megaforce, which wouldn’t have touched anything this psychedelic and mellow back in its own heyday—they’ve chosen to continue on in a similar ‘90s-nostalgic vein.
Which isn’t all bad. For one, Curt Kirkwood is still as jaw-dropping a guitarist as ever—his spiraling solos and multi-tracked psychedelic flourishes save many of Sewn Together‘s songs from mediocrity. Tracks like “Blanket of Weeds” and the complex rocker “Rotten Shame” give him plenty of room to stretch out, as do the grinding riff and fever-dream lyrics of “S.K.A.” The title track and “The Monkey and the Snake” also have a playful, country-tinged irreverence that approximates the band’s best work in concept, if not execution.
But what really drags Sewn Together down as a whole is one of the more unforgiveable sequencing blunders in recent memory: three mellow, ballad-tempo songs in a row right smack in the middle of the album. Starting with “Go To Your Head”—which sounds more like R.E.M. than R.E.M. does these days—the tepid balladry doesn’t match the dark surrealism of the lyrics, which commences a landslide that continues through the wistful piano work on both “Clone” and “Smoke”. The previously mentioned “S.K.A.” brings a welcome relief to the record’s overall flow, but it’s too little too late—and any listeners who make it through to “Love Mountain”, the child-like celebration of nature that concludes the album, will only find themselves wondering why there weren’t more songs like it along the way.