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The Meat Puppets, “Meat Puppets II” (1983); <i> SST</i>

Like most of the band’s albums from the ‘80s, “Meat Puppets II” made a bigger impression with smitten critics than it did with the record-buying public. But this superb album nevertheless may be one of the primary reasons why the Puppets are enjoying their greatest mainstream popularity.

Last year the trio from Phoenix helped Nirvana perform three songs from “Meat Puppets II"-- “Lake of Fire,” “Plateau” and “Oh Me"--on Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged” concert special. The invaluable exposure helped make the Puppets’ most recent album, “Too High to Die,” its best selling ever.

As a lad, Nirvana guru Kurt Cobain understandably was entranced by the magical and occasionally oblique sounds woven into the grooves of the gloriously eclectic “Meat Puppets II.” The album begins with a jagged and noisy workout called “Split Myself in Two” which mirrors the rant and rave climate of the early ‘80s punk scene. But from there the Puppets blaze a trail that sometimes is so off the beaten track that only the truly adventurous dare to follow.

The genial and quirky “Lost” is propelled by a steady country-rock rhythm and singer Curt Kirkwood’s twangy/grungy guitar textures. His inventive ax-manship also establishes the psychedelic ambience surrounding the moody and mystical folk ballad “Plateau.” “Climbing” is a slow, country-tinged track with hillbilly acoustic guitar pickings that sound as if they were lifted straight out of the Ozarks.

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But simply to call “Meat Puppets II” a country-rock or cow-punk album would be to underestimate the group’s bohemian sensibilities. In general, this 30-minute but marvelously innovative disc would leave most country, mainstream rock and punk fans scratching their heads in bewilderment. From Kirkwood’s warbling, off-kilter vocals to the inspired oddness of the obtuse instrumental “I’m a Mindless Idiot,” the Puppets seem bent on proving that they are insane or geniuses years ahead of their time.

Not even the Meat Puppets make albums this weirdly wonderful anymore.


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