** 1/2 MEAT PUPPETS “Forbidden Places” ...

** 1/2 MEAT PUPPETS “Forbidden Places” London .

It looks as if it will take more than a major-label record deal and Dwight Yoakam’s producer to make the Meat Puppets something other than the definitive cult band. The Phoenix-based trio, which became alternative-rock heroes over 10 years of independent releases, is the musical equivalent of underground comix: They turn obsessive, private visions into a shared landscape, where cryptic personal images take on the air of myth and significant hallucination.

Even though they often sound as mainstream as the Eagles on “Places,” there’s a sense of isolation that allows an integrity of conception and a freedom of execution. In “Another Moon,” “That’s How It Goes” and “Whirlpool,” they team with producer Pete Anderson to consummate their country-rock urges, unfolding a series of airy contemplations of remarkable purity.

But the Pups are less interesting when they compress the rhythms, and the harder rock songs that flank that triad are dull and prosaic. It’s the difference between soaring in space and running in place. That the Meat Puppets don’t seem to know the difference is both their charm and their downfall.


Albums are rated on a scale of one asterisk (poor) to five (a classic).