Every new Meat Puppets release should be cause for a celebration for simply being a new Meat Puppets release. That Rat Farm, the group's 14th album, is incredibly charming and infinitely rewarding and calls for a rip-roaring fiesta.
Departing from their sometimes misguided, always admirable recent outings, Rat Farm is the kind of confident and loose record that sounds every bit like a victory lap.
Casual without sounding tossed-off, Rat Farm makes it easy to wax poetic about the brothers Kirkwood, who, after 30 years, sound as engaged as they did on classics like Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun. "Waiting" is a breeze across the desert, all shuffling rhythms and nylon-stringed glory. "Leave Your Head Alone" drips with feedback and pulses with anthemic resolution. "River Rose" is a sunny jangle that slowly, insistently picks up roaring guitars to conclude in a wash of fuzz.
Unfussy does not mean vacuous, and Rat Farm is a layered work. On the jaunty opening/title track, Curt Kirkwood's lyrics ("You will not enjoy tomorrow unless you feel the pain/of my whips and my daggers and my chains"), sung in his neutral, reedy tone, hint at the edginess the band feeds on. Later, the grunge boogie of "Original One" brilliantly concludes with unexpected, almost bellicose fury.
The electrified folk ditty "Sometimes Blue," Rat Farm's best track, is also a capsule summary of the Meat Puppets: twangy guitars and unexpected melodies coalescing around something endlessly appealing. Arizona is fortunate to be able to count these strange, talented sons as our own, and one hopes Rat Farm is less an ending than a prelude to their next sweetly skewered offering.