Well, it seems like the Meat Puppets are finally just “puppets” now and everybody seems to like them for that: they’re easy today to pigeonhole into these pathetic country saps, with no anger, no creative direction, no psychedelia, no much of anything but this impossibly tired and bored “Americana” which could have easily predated the career of J.J. Cale for its stylistic mundanity.
I’ll admit: my thinking on the Meat Puppets has been anything but lucid over the years — like most egregiously I for the longest time had no idea who sang “Backwater,” which I simply knew as “that awesome ‘some things will never change’ song I keep hearing down at the little league.” Probably sometime in the mid-’00s I finally got wind of that discovery and bought Too High to Die on CD, which I found to definitely generally rock. I stumbled upon this Out My Way EP, or mini-LP with bonus tracks, on CD, and that one COMPLETELY rocked, which makes it such a sham that it’s not on Spotify. And then I’m not even kidding you: their album from 2011 Lollipop is the best thing they’ve ever done. And yes, I do know that they’re a hardcore band from the ’80s… that information is nowhere near as top-secret as the creator of the song “Backwater.”
One thing is for sure: this album sure as he** isn’t even inspired, seeing as every track has the mama-heartbeat, hoedown-on-Xanax ennui that seems to be the band’s new pose, let alone “hip” to the point where Rolling Stone has any business covering it (they apparently gave it a good review too, based on the band’s Facebook feed) or thinking that anybody under 30 will have any use for this music. Lollipop, by comparison, was riffy, trippy alternative rock, which could actually ROCK OUT, like display some cathartic emotion, when such a thing was in order.
Dusty Notes is basically just “dusty,” by comparison (it should be noted that on the underrated Sewn Together title track Curt Kirkwood employs the term “dusty bones,” of which I was immediately reminded when I saw this new album title), with the first five tracks basically just unimaginably bland. This of course caused quite the umbrage in me when I saw that track six was called “The Great Awakening,” which drew my last bit of patience with this project. Basically, it’s a slight improvement, with the gentle, celestial guitar sound of Quebec-era Ween and a drum beat slightly syncopated, but still not really conventional enough to push this LP into dangerous territory, or the realm of being in any way energetic or irrelevant.
It’s been widely publicized that in 2003 bassist Chris Kirkwood had quite a scene with a police officer and then did close to a year in the tank following the incident. Well, I hope for the band’s sake that people eventually realize how substantial, emotionally undulated and beautiful much of the band’s work was following this event, like Sewn Together’s gorgeous, anthemic centerpiece “Sapphire” or Lollipop’s astonishingly contemplative opener “Incomplete.” But I don’t think Dusty Notes is going to win the band over any true fans, sounding like the work of a group resting on their laurels, and the fact that this album has got praise makes me worried that people really want to caricature them into countrified trolls, rather than the mood-shifting rockers they are when they’re at their best.