The most satisfying 21st-century reunions have been the ones with compelling back stories. For Dinosaur Jr., it was a cult of twin personalities; Mission of Burma, a frustrated artistic legacy. Now the Meat Puppets' reunion is a story of personal redemption to rival Merle Haggard's. The Arizona (now Austin) trio's star rose steadily throughout the 1980s, peaking after a guest shot on Nirvana's historic 1993 MTV Unplugged performance. Soon afterward, bassist Cris Kirkwood left the band, spiraling into drug addiction, as his brother, frontman Curt Kirkwood, struggled with a slowly fading career. Ultimately, Cris ended up getting himself nearly shot to death and tossed into prison after assaulting a Phoenix police officer in 2003. How gratifying, then, to find Cris alive, free and helping recapture the group's unique stylistic signature. As with the Puppets' other post-1991 work, Rise to Your Knees lacks the revelatory quality of their earlier albums. It's middling in tempo and pacing, mixed like a grunge record and quite long. But its subtly layered guitar work echoes the dreamy, polished psychedelia that the band made two decades ago on Mirage and Out My Way, as do songs like "Tiny Kingdom," "Enemy Love Song" and especially "Spit," with their cyclical, otherworldly melodies, sung in the Kirkwood brothers' hypnotic harmonies. Rise to Your Knees can't equal the Meat Puppets' seminal work, but it calmly, confidently and proudly reminds us where that music came from.
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