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Like Yosemite, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, the Meat Puppets are a national treasure that we have too often taken for granted. Name another American band that has spanned the generations of punk and grunge, fusing those eras together while adding a curiosity and appreciation for classic rock, psychedelia and folk music. And then name another band that's managed to not release a succession of sucky albums in the process (OK, R.E.M. fans, you can all sit down now).
Sure, the Kirkwood brothers had a 12-year layoff between No Joke and last year's reunion album, Rise to Your Knees. And not every album has been an all-out masterpiece. But the best of the Meat Puppets' canon has an exploratory dynamic to it, like wandering through some undiscovered territory and noticing how different Curt Kirkwood's topography, vegetation and wildlife is from yours. And like most bands with a body of work that spans a quarter of a century, there's the temptation to figure out where this new album fits in relation to the others that came before. If anything, this album builds on the commercial breakthrough sound of Too High to Die and then leaves it in the dust.
No other Meat Puppets album has such a sonic lushness to it, from the airy beauty of "Smoke" (which features a grand piano) to the one-two eclectic punch of "I'm Not You" (where bluegrass and raga rock seemingly meet at a truck stop somewhere). And for a band that so loves ZZ Top that they signed to the near-defunct London label to prove it, "Blanket of Weeds" continues that love affair with more than a little of the Moving Sidewalks thrown in for good measure. If the same radio and industry muscle that was in place when "Backwater" was a hit were still around, this would be its superior follow-up.
Having come together during the recording of the last album, the Kirkwood brothers and new drummer Ted Marcus are now a cohesive unit that sounds like it's having fun with being able to put together an album at the confident, leisurely pace of their old SST days. Occasionally, they even approach the rawness of those early albums, particularly on "Rotten Shame." But mostly, it's a mature-sounding Meat Puppets, which might not sound like a good idea to some. But a Meat Puppets with staying power is preferable to one that jumps the rails and then stays in a ditch. Coming off the comparatively tentative-sounding Rise to Your Knees, Sewn Together offers enough proof that the Puppets are a national treasure that doesn't intend on remaining a buried one.
The Meat Puppets play Thursday, June 4, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700.
Serene Dominic interviews Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets:
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.