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The Most Influential Arizona Punk Records: #5 - Meat Puppets, Untitled Seven-Inch EP

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"We said, 'Sure,' and we made a record contract. It had two stipulations. The first was the Meat Puppets are always right and the second was, if there was any problems, see the first stipulation. Then we signed it in blood," says Cris Kirkwood. "I mean, it's punk rock, right?"

True to form, a punk rock recording contract should indeed be signed in blood and, hopefully, all local record labels and bands are taking note of this. Besides, if it worked for the Meat Puppets, it will certainly work again. The recording for this EP took place on a single day -- June 4, 1981 -- and Ed Barger, who also worked on the Monitor record, as well as several early Devo singles, was at the helm. Bostrom remembers the recording went very smoothly, which was unlike most of the Meat Puppets' recording sessions that followed, unfortunately.

"Not all of our sessions went well. 'In a Car' went really smoothly and we were blindsided because those were about the last sessions we did that went smoothly. Once we started working with SST [Records, founded by Greg Ginn of Black Flag], we felt the pressure and they were not as fun," says Bostrom.

Legend has it, for example, that the entire eponymously titled Meat Puppets debut was recorded (in November 1981) with the band completely under the influence of LSD. For less accomplished (or adventurous) musicians, this could create a significant challenge in and of itself.

Luckily for us, though, there was some magic in the Puppets that fateful day in 1981, and the seven-inch turned out to be a killer little punk rock gem. "In a Car" kicks off the EP in fine fashion, with Cris Kirkwood screaming over the hardcore guitar skronk of his older brother, Curt.

"At the end of it, there is a little bit on the outro where I go into this screaming thing . . . I scream to a friend of ours, Anthony, who had been killed in a car accident," remembers Cris.

"Big House" reverberates around Bostrom's constant snare hit and the lyrics, well, they hint to all the acid done by the Puppets:

"This house is so damn big that we all hide forever inside / We do it daily but the beneficial remains unrealized / This is the big house nobody ever leaves, the whole thing vibrates slightly / I can feel that you're afraid / Frightened is a state of mind, States of mind are harmful / They make you think that think that things are about to become undone."

"Big House" also further shows how the band put its own twist on the "hardcore" punk guitar and bass sound. The brothers Kirkwood are masters of interweaving their riffage so it sounds almost backwards at times yet still drives the listener to a constant state of head-bobbing. With the Meat Puppets, you have to be able to feel the music, as well as listen, but this is not as challenging as one might think. The band is well-rooted to pop music structures and almost always has a sizable hook you can sink your teeth into while enjoying their recorded dementia.

Speaking of dementia, "Dolphin Field" is another trip down the lyrical rabbit hole, and it may have possibly invented the genre known as "power violence," as the Kirkwood brothers scream their way into the skulls of their audience. Led again by Bostrom's one-two, one-two blasts of snare and kick drum, Curt picks out a guitar line reminiscent of both Syd Barrett and Buck Owens, while Cris provides the punk rock backbone on bass. Just try to get the guitar part out of your head. Luckily it morphs right into the instrumental "Out in the Gardener."

It should be pointed here, and not at all reluctantly, that these songs are all about one minute long. Typically, unless you are locked into mortal combat or being prodded by an overzealous physician, a minute doesn't seem like a very long time, but with all the tracks on this EP, they seem much bigger (and perhaps longer) than they really are. "Out in the Gardener" is probably the most thinly veiled hint of what would come from the Puppets next: fried country punk or a finger-picked freakout. Either way, it is still effective and probably confounded many a punk trying to figure out what the band was going for when they recorded the middle track on the B side.



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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon