To the extent that rock supergroups are genetic breeding experiments, they encourage observation of dominant figures and recessive traits, surprising hybrids and a + b = ? results. Given the empirical evidence, recombinant groups of well-established musicians assurance nothing beyond a certain degree of attention, which makes the charm of the album by Eyes Adrift — a disparate collective formed by Meat Puppets singer-guitarist Curt Kirkwood, ex-Nirvana bassist (and, here, singer) Krist Novoselic and ex-Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh — all the more surprising. (As all three came to be available because of a bandmate’s self-destruction — in the cases of Kurt Cobain and Sublime singer Brad Nowell, permanently — Eyes Adrift resembles a rock survivors support group.) Thankfully, the music rarely resembles its creators’ past work, so no grunge, no jam-bandy guitar silliness and no SoCal ska-punk; instead, Eyes Adrift finds melodic grooves and works them with skill at various energy levels, from sweet and gentle to small-scale rock power.
Kirkwood, who never had much natural talent as a vocalist, has been doing it so long that he knows how to use what he has to decent advantage. He sings all but three of the songs, shaking off some of the Arizona country dust in his voice, leaving a clear and pleasant directness to match restrained displays of his fluid and diverse guitar virtuosity; Novoselic brings indie-rock fecklessness to an earnest song about JonBenet Ramsey (“Inquiring Minds”), a cloddish skillet-licker (“Dottie Dawn & Julie Jewel”) and the turgid “Pasted,” which showcases Kirkwood’s desert psychedelia at length and probably ends the album so as not to appear during it. Gaugh is tasteful and strong, shaping his drumming to fit the sounds without making his presence overly felt. Ultimately, it’s Kirkwood’s show, but swapping out the Pups’ rhythm section brings him to a new creative plateau, turning the spotlight down, letting him front the band without being the whole show.
“Sleight of Hand” opens the album with style-defying trumpet, while “Untried” weaves fuzzy guitar through pretty peaceful pop. “Solid,” a well-constructed tune about emotional detachment, has a firm hook; “Pyramids” floats along with a lot of atmosphere. Although there are a few duds tucked toward the back, this worthy offspring owes little enough to the members’ previous enterprises to stand all on its own.
With the politically active Novoselic opting to end his recording career, Gaugh and Kirkwood took advantage of the momentum and recorded an even better album as Volcano. Assisted by Ziggens bassist Jon Poutney and soundman Miguel Happoldt, Kirkwood grabs the songwriting reins. A simple rough-in-the-studio mix keeps a few corners intact on a successful run-through of songs structured on Gaugh’s drum patterns and Poutney’s reggae/dub-inspired bass lines (“Some Kind of Light”). Kirkwood’s unfettered vocals give the tracks a high-lonesome feel. Opener “Pine Cone” uses his Black Sabbath rhythm preference but is the only track to do so, with others using banjo fills (the peppy “Blown Away”, “Rave Away”) or layering electric and acoustic guitar (“Run Aground”). “Twisted Seeds” is a high point in Kirkwood’s career — with its Jerry Garcia influence and overlapping verses, it’s nothing you’d find on a Meat Puppets album. “Arrow” features pseudo-pedal steel and Latin guitar with stylings that echo the era of Meat Puppets II. Though it doesn’t have the blend of personalities present in Eyes Adrift, it has personality.