Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets II
The day Michael Jackson died, June 25, 2009, I made my way from Chicago to Summerfest in Milwaukee solely to see Meat Puppets play. I got into the festival grounds and made my way to the stage I was looking for. Nirvana was playing on the sound system, which seemed to indicate I was in the right place. I sat on some bleachers and a stoned teenager sitting beside me asked me “Is this where the Meat Puppets are playing?” I said yes. He said “Are they the band that Nirvana covered on MTV Unplugged?” I said yes. He said “What album are those songs on?” I said “Meat Puppets II.” He said “What year did that come out?” I said 1984. This guy had found the right person to ask all these questions; maybe it was because I was wearing a Black Flag T-shirt. Four years later I was in a new job where most of my peers are 10 years younger than me. One weekend I went to see Meat Puppets again and on Monday morning they asked me what I’d done that weekend. I said, “I went to see the Meat Puppets.” They said, “Who?” I said, “OK, did you ever see Nirvana on MTV Unplugged?” They said, flatly, “No.”
And so the easiest way to explain who Meat Puppets are is being erased. Regardless, this album remains a triumph. Courtney Love once said she dismissed it as atonal noise until Kurt Cobain performed it for her in its entirety. An enviable privilege, but this shouldn’t have been necessary; especially when you compare it to their previous album, which sounds like someone howling into a wind tunnel. Here, the range of human emotion covered in just over 30 minutes is astounding. “Split Myself In Two” eases us in with a fairly standard punk vibe, as does “New Gods,” but then “Magic Toy Missing” is a frantic, weird country instrumental. “Lost,” which label mates Minutemen covered, “Aurora Borealis” and “Climbing” have an appealing Neil Young and Crazy Horse feel, while “We’re Here” achieves the emotive, ethereal sound and feel so prevalent in early ‘80s indie rock.
Three of the album’s songs are elevated to hits of sorts by Cobain covering them backed by the Kirkwood brothers on Unplugged. “Plateau” is sublime, particularly when it explodes into an epic walk home at the 1:41 mark. “Oh, Me” is a brilliantly understated ballad to oneself. “Lake Of Fire” is as dire as its title implies, albeit with an appropriate measure of absurdity (this “lady who came from Duluth” doesn’t sound too scary). After that it all ends with the one-two punch of the perfectly composed and executed “I’m a Mindless Idiot” followed by the aptly titled “The Whistling Song.”