Musicians need not be ingénues to create vital music, something the Meat Puppets personify. Sure, the band doesn't bother changing its sound or image to match the ever-rotating flavor of the month, but really, why should they? When, over the course of your 30-year career, your followers have ranged from Nirvana to R.E.M., there's little reason you shouldn't do what you know.

And that's what the Meat Puppets do on their latest release, 'Rat Farm.' If it sounds a little familiar -- most listeners are likely to know them from breakthrough album 'Too High to Die' in the '90s -- that's probably because it is. And if Puppets' genre doesn't seem easily classifiable, well, it's doubtful that bothers the group much. The boys originally cut their teeth on the punk label SST, although they've said they don't consider themselves to be punk, and over time, they've been given numerous labels, among them "cosmic country." In truth, neither descriptor tells the full story, and they exist in some strange netherworld in between.

But frankly, the band probably has more important things to think about than what people want to call their music. Theirs is a bit of a comeback story: When founding member Cris Kirkwood rejoined the band after kicking his drug addiction and reconciling with brother Curt, the group seemed to finally settle back into its groove, something evident throughout 'Rat Farm.'

As usual, the songwriting here is vivid, and the lyrics come loaded with strong imagery. Witness: 'River Roses' ("The sun came up and the sky was melting") or the truly psychedelic closer, 'Sweet' ("riding a goat is a lizard in formal attire / cracking its whip as the ticker-tape falls"). There's also a reference or two to the band's struggles with addiction, and 'One More Drop' contains the line, "One more drop / then I'm gonna stop it/ one more hit / then I'm gonna quit it."

Judging from the album, the band is focused on putting its troubles in the rearview mirror and moving forward. "Everything's cool / everything's fine / everything drives me out of my mind," they proclaim on 'Waiting.' Maybe so, but one thing's for sure: As critics continue grasping for labels to slap on this music, there's one thing they'll never get away with calling the Meat Puppets: boring.

8 out of 10 rating