A year and a half separated the Meat Puppets' first and second albums, and that time made all the difference in the world; sounding uncertain and fidgety on their debut, they had clearly found their groove, and 1984's Meat Puppets II was not just a quantum leap over their earlier recordings, it defined the parameters of their sonic landscape and is still justly regarded as their finest work. The Meat Puppets' earliest material found them trying to reconcile their obvious love of country and psychedelic rock while bashing away at hardcore tempos, but on Meat Puppets II they relaxed a bit and learned to let each song follow its own lead, and the jolly irony was that as they became more comfortable with their eclecticism, they also created a more unified approach that flattered the instrumental skills of guitarist Curt Kirkwood, bassist Cris Kirkwood, and drummer Derrick Bostrom, as well as the group's songwriting. The speedy chicken picking on "Magic Toy Missing," the punky roar of "Split Myself in Two," the languid noise of "Lake of Fire," and the relaxed, spaced-out groove of "Aurora Borealis" may not have had much in common on the surface, but the group's sense of stoned, sunny wonder permeated them all, and Curt's stellar guitar work and spaced-out vocals were a massive improvement over the blunt yet mushy attack of the first album. And though Meat Puppets II was a long way from slick, Spot's slightly more precise production and engineering gave the album a roomier, more approachable sound, and Curt's judicious palette of guitar overdubs allowed this to stumble gracefully in between vintage hard rock and neo-Grateful Dead influences. It would take Kurt Cobain's endorsement of the album almost ten years after the fact to alert the mainstream to the importance of Meat Puppets II (Nirvana covered three songs from the LP in their MTV Unplugged concert), but the album's playful trippiness was a welcome blow against the hegemony of the nascent indie rock scene, and decades later its energetic charm and resinous insights remain a delight.
Meat Puppets II Review
by Mark Deming