I’m suddenly unable to listen to alt-country. This is a real problem, because although I don’t miss Wilco, for example, I do miss liking Uncle Tupelo. I just can’t stand it right now. And forget new stuff. Maybe the Sadies, but they’re stumbling lately, and maybe Neko Case, but I think she’s left alt-country for something else, torch songs, or something. Not entirely cabaret, but Nick Cave/Leonard Cohen songwriting genre.
I think what I’ve started to dislike is the slickness of alt-country, the too-practiced sound of say, Ryan Adams, or worse, Wilco, who sounds like they must make a Grand Statement with every record (although adding Nels Cline is a right move in the right direction). This kind of music isn’t an alternative to anything. It’s adult contemporary. Johnny Dowd is spooky enough but I can’t dance to it, and Gillian Welch seems to have forgotten how to make a good record.
Which means I’m going to have to go back. Not to Creedence, God forbid, but to when punk discovered country. And it’s always good to seek out the genre founders when the genre goes haywire. Therfore I hope someone out there is making music that has the fear, the darkness, and the adventure of the Gun Club. Before he succumbed to the needle, the Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce was seen as a nut and innovator for dunking his punk in a tub of country blues. He made mistakes, left his songs with the sound of something barely held together, his wavering yodel above raw guitars, drum kit with cymbals crashing, slide or steel guitar stunning for its very presence. Their 1981 debut, Fire of Love, contains some great songs, and is a fantastic album on its own; “My Dreams” from 1984’s Las Vegas Story ranks up there with my desert island songs, and ’87’s Mother Juno has its moments, but I prefer 1982’s Miami, their second, which contains this:
Pierce makes interesting solo albums after the Gun Club disintegrates for good following Mother Juno, and then later dies of an overdose, completely unsung. Fuck the world sometimes, you know?
And that makes me think of the other early eighties alt-country masterpiece, Meat Puppets II, not just an alt-country triumph, but one of the best records of the eighties, hands down, not a loser track on it. Rumor has it they recorded the entire thing on acid, which doesn’t make them mavericks of any kind; just makes it a better alt country album than most. Neophytes will recognize that Cobain covered a few MP II songs on Nirvana’s live MTV thing album or whatever it was. Brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood are on equal weirdo-maniac status as Pierce, Cris with all sorts of drug and legal problems in the mid nineties, and then doing ’03-’05 in prison after a fight with a security guard at a post office that led to him being shot in the leg. There’s talk of a reunion this year. I won’t be there.
Meat Puppets II is all you’ll ever need, with respect to deep MP fans listening to a few other albums that aren’t all that bad; they’re just too much like the horrid horrid Grateful De–I can’t even write it – for my taste. But check this track if you’ve never had your Meat Puppet cherry busted. Absolutely batshit.