Reviews from Staple…
The Meat Puppets – Classic Puppets – Rykodisc
Just in case the name confused you, The Meat Puppets are not a death metal band. In fact, they’re a country punk outfit hailing from Phoenix, Arizona. This collection is an excellent introduction to the Meat Puppets’ world, culling tracks from their seminal eighties albums on SST. This period covers their most important work, although ideally there’d be more weight given to their brilliant second album. Having said that, there are some real gems amongst their later material – such as the cover of George Jones’ twangy revenge anthem ‘Burn the Honky Tonk Down’. As much as (and before) Pavement, The Meat Puppets were responsible for broadening the indie rock paradigm to embrace off-key singing and unapologetic looseness. That really comes through on the recordings collected here – the band sounds truly shambolic, and genuinely great.
Mercury Rev – The Secret Migration – V2
After various internal disputes and drug-induced breakdowns, Mercury Rev have enjoyed real success since the end of the nineties with the mature sound of their Deserter’s Songs and All is Dream albums. The Secret Migration is definitely a further step in that direction – traces of the dissonance and psychedelia of their noise-laden early work remain, but the focus here very much on songwriting and lush orchestration over sonic experimentation. As on their last two albums, the sophisticated production and general lack of abrasiveness can sometimes give the album a cloying prog rock vibe. But the genius of Mercury Rev – and this really isn’t supposed to sound flippant – is that they can pull this cheesy-sounding shit off. It might be fair to say the material on this album is a little weaker than their best, but Mercury Rev marking time will still beat most bands any day.
Royal City – Little Heart’s Ease – Three Gut Records
Canada’s musical track record is one of high highs and low lows (Bryan Adams, anyone?), so it’s only fair to approach this album, the third by Canadian alt-country act Royal City, with a little trepidation. Thankfully Royal City owe more of a debt to two of that country’s more respectable exports – Neil Young and Leonard Cohen – than to Adams et al. Opener ‘Bring My Father a Gift’, for example, has Laughing Len written all over it – all religious imagery and softly sung lyrics-with-a-capital-L. Such self-conscious lyricism would drag if it were maintained over the length of the whole album, but fortunately there’s plenty of variety here. For my money, it’s the rootsier songs that work best, like the plaintive, waltz-timed ‘Cabbage Rolls’ with its simple-but-effective pedal steel playing. Fans of Palace, Lambchop and Wilco will find plenty to like about this.