Album Review – Up on the Sun by Meat Puppets (1985) (SST Records)
Despite a vast back catalogue encompassing 14 albums over the 35 years+ since their self-titled debut in 1982 (which still remains an essential listen after all these years) it is only really the Meat Puppets II album that has ever really solicited the sort of widespread critical acclaim the band deserves. However, in my ‘humble’ but ultimately correct opinion, it is this, their next album, that truly deserves the most widespread plaudits.
Primarily this was due to the fact that the MP’s appeared to have made a conscious effort towards constructing actual tunes within the album, in a manner that may have given a nod of acknowledgement towards a more commercial sound without ever really threatening to become swallowed by ‘the man’. As such, this album is the one that should be considered their magnum opus, as it represents the successful achievement of that often elusive Talking Heads aesthetic that finds an acceptable balance between contrary indie chic and the melodically commercial.
The main way in which this was achieved was simply by varying the levels and types of jangle-pop sound which gave the more commercial essence to the above-mentioned formula for, what was ultimately, extremely cool. For instance tracks such as the brilliant opening double salvo of Upon on the Sun and Maidens Milk as well as the superlative Swimming Ground (see above) would sit nicely with any number of the eras less abrasive and more melodic C86 bands. Similarly the band also touch upon psychedelic jangle-pop inflections in tracks such as Hot Pink, Too Real and Sea Whales (see below).
With one half of the ‘cool formula’ sealed with the increased usage of jangled guitar inflections, the final ingredients to the what ultimately steered this album away from the shallow waters of commercial despair into the deep blue yonder of the promised land known as ‘different and original’ were added in two different ways.
Initially tracks such as Enchanted Pork Fist and Two Rivers (see below) sees a much greater level of musicianship achieved than on previous albums. Chris Kirkwoodon bass is now able to joust note for note with his previously far more technically accomplished brother Curt on lead guitar. As such there is an increased interplay between the two, that retains a tight hold on the better parts of a Post-Punk scene that was about disappear under all things Morrissey, whilst floating all things jangle-pop in an out of the chunky bass-lines.
Similarly the fact that neither of the Kirkwood brothers can sing, probably promotes the needfor long periods of instrumentals in each track. The flat casual sounding vocals when added to the muted jangle sounds like a Dunedin Sound or Flying Nun kiwi type band, which adds to their allure considering neither movement had really taken off as yet. Possibly the best example of this can be seen in the albums true stand out Buckethead (see below).
The Meat Puppets have been the reliable proponents of ramshackle, countrified, distorted melodies across four decades now, but it is this album that remains their most appealing work.