The much-ballyhooed return of Cris Kirkwood, gone five years from drug addiction and a jail term, matters mostly for the creative boost it provides older brother Curt Kirkwood, who accounts for about 95% of the Pups'sensibility. Cris and Curt's sibling vocal harmonies provide instant Grateful Dead flashbacks (without the acid) and the gleaming pluck of Cris's guitjo (a guitar-banjo hybrid) is the distinctive highlight of “Tiny Kingdom.” But one pledges allegiance to the Meat Puppets for Curt's refried guitar screeds and the sardonic, purposefully ragged wisdom of his songwriting, and Knees has both in abundance. The first guitar solo on “Fly Like the Wind” is spectral and scalding and the last, on “Light the Fire,” is guttural and rude; in-between are psychedelic blowouts like “Disappear” and churning chordal pop-rock like “Spit.”
As for the songcraft, “Disappear” could be a hit on head-banger radio, “Stone Eyes” has a subversively winsome melody, and the lyrical sentiments of “Enemy Love Song” are syrup tinged with battery acid. Throw in Curt's dense, decidedly unslick production and he's once again turbocharged a resplendent power trio (new drummer Ted Marcus is generally indistinguishable from old drummer Derrick Bostrom). Comparisons to past classics such as the cowpunked Meat Puppets II, or anything else in the Pups'versatile catalogue, is silly and (unless you can play two discs at the same time) irrelevant, dwarfed by the news that a band reared alongside the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements is not only surviving, but thriving in 2007.