The Meat Purveyors: Pain by Numbers

Michael Metivier

The Meat Purveyors

Pain by Numbers

Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2004-07-27
UK Release Date: 2004-09-13

Humor and music, for some, may be chocolate and peanut butter (or hazelnut, for our European friends). For most of us though, it's chocolate and orange-only once in a while do we get the craving to laugh with the stereo on. Country music in particular has a hit-or-miss relationship with joking around. It's either unintentionally funny (mostly to those who hate the genre), or it's Jeff Foxworthy-worthy. All of this makes the Meat Purveyors' Pain by Numbers quite perplexing. By no means is this a comedic album, but a fundamental sense of humor underlies even the darkest moments, and the results are fun, challenging, and devoid of cheese. The title, Pain by Numbers, perfectly embodies the album's dual nature, an aw-shucks pun on the its most heartbreaking and arresting original, "Paint by Numbers".

"TMP Smackdown" kicks and bucks right out of the gate, even beginning with a classic set-up: "A guy walks up to a girl in a bar and asks 'What do you do?'/ She says 'TAR!'" A speed-grass account of a talented but heroin-addicted local musician, the song shows a mixture of empathy and disapproval for its subject. Lines like "her boyfriend as useless as tits on a bull" keep the song miles from finger-wagging D.A.R.E. polemics, while lead singer Jo Stanli Cohen delivers "GO!" and "UH!" with more conviction than Zach De La Rocha in a designated protest zone.

Like most of the songs on Pain by Numbers, "TMP Smackdown" speeds by in just over 2 minutes. The head of steam that the album builds on the first half can leave you breathless after a few listens, until the nuances of each song begin to reveal themselves. "How Can I Be So Thirsty Today?" is another TMP original with plenty to grin and think about, the punch-line being "When I had so much to drink last night?" The caffeinated bluegrass playing and lyrical theme might sound hokey on paper (country songs about drinkin' with a funny refrain? Ever heard one?), but the writing and musicianship make it clear this is no naive exercise in copping "Don't Come Home a-Drinkin'". Thank guitarist/songwriter Bill Anderson for penning "Now I'm chasing three aspirin with a tall-boy / To get this pressure off my head", a line that should single-handedly unite the oldest and youngest generations of Pabst drinkers.

Ultimately, and to the band's credit, its original material remains the most compelling. Half of the songs on Pain are covers, and of those about half match the quality of their best work. This is not to say that any of the songs are duds, or are executed poorly, rather that the best covers are both enhanced by TMP's personalized stamp, and push them into new melodic territory. Dusty Springfield's chestnut, "In the Middle of Nowhere", is a prime example of this, with its call-and-response verses and intriguing chord progression. The Fleetwood Mac cover "Monday Morning", with its Gram Parsons-era Byrds feel, illuminates connections between that band and the So-Cal country-tinged rock that followed in its wake. Johnny Paycheck's "It Won't Be Long (And I'll Be Hating You)" also feels at home amongst the Meat-y originals, and provides the album's first moment to catch one's breath with its relatively slow pace, giving Cohen an opportunity to try a little tenderness.

The album's revelations are the aforementioned "Paint By Numbers", with its exquisite melody and clever yet touching lyrics, and the arresting closer "Car Crash". "Paint By Numbers" defies adequate description except to say that if justice exists in this world, it will endure as well as the covered material amidst which it resides. "Car Crash" literally careens out of the speakers, and completes the album's circle from heroin to harrowing. Then, before you know it, it's all over. The production and recording are mercifully straightforward and not overcooked. While I imagine that TMP can't help but be more exhilarating onstage, their raucous energy is well preserved here, perfect for when you want your country both gritty and playful, pensive and propulsive, chocolate and orange.





Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.