Remember the early 90s? — The death of sophisticated songwriting or the dawn of a music genre with integrity that would define a generation, depending on your opinion.
The acts that rode the indie-rock and grunge wave into the mainstream either became legends and left as quickly as they had arrived on the scene (think Nirvana and Soundgarden) or evolved into the fledgling but earnest modern rock biodome of today (Pearl Jam or Stone Temple Pilots). Ubiquitous rock-star blights like heroin, fame-induced depression and melancholy egoism plagued them all at some point.
The Meat Puppets belong to that age and style. While they managed to stay just below MTV’s radar, their influence and devoted fan base figure greatly in the indie neo-punk community. The Austin-based band’s cult following has built them a mythic level of esteem.
Their first studio album in five years, the recently released “Golden Lies” is their first recording without founding member Cris Kirkwood, and struggles to live up to expectations. Despite the presence of new members Kyle Ellison, Shandon Sahm and Andrew Duplantis, lead singer Curt Kirkwood, brother to the departed Cris, sticks to familiar territory and less-than-awe-inspiring material. Much of the album meanders through nearly identical vocal and guitar noise with occasional spots of pop-like sounds, as in “Hercules,” and “Push the Button.”
These refreshing moments, however, sound too familiar to anyone unexposed to the Pups. That’s because “Push the Button” could have been produced by Phish, and “Hercules” is right at home in the musical acreage of Primus. One could argue this used sound is the fault of The Meat Puppets’ influence over other acts. For a band known for its ground-breaking, original idiosyncrasy, however, their limited effort leaves something to be desired. Even the contemporary tone of the electronica “Intro” feels like a redux of Dave Matthews Band’s “Pantala Naga Pampa.”
As for lyrical content, Curt’s often dark and introspective vocals reflect the trauma experienced during his brother’s drug problems and many recent deaths close to the band, including Cris’ wife. On “Pieces of Me,” the self-deprecating lines “Once I was something but I can’t remember/ Whatever that something should be” unfortunately mirror the band’s lost sense of musical innovation.
“Golden Lies,” while certainly packed with solid guitar riffs and the maturity of an experienced group of musicians, fails to excite. Instead, it merely floats the listener into the Meat Puppets’ time warp, where it is always 1993 and the now-moldy grunge scene never dies.