Mekons' Curse and Moby Dick
Producer The Mekons
Bass Lu Cipher
John "The Dubmaster General" Gill
Drums Steve "Ghoulding" Goulding
Engineer Guy Crackers
Guitar Jon "Dee Fanglord" Langford
Tom "In The Green" Greenhalgh
Brendan "Crowkey" Croker
Trumpet Neil Yates
Saxophone Gavin Sharp
Vocals Jon "Dee Fanglord" Langford
Tom "In The Green" Greenhalgh
Sally "Endora" Timms
Eric "Rico Hell" Bellis
Brendan "Crowkey" Croker
Trombone John Hart
Synthesizers Jon "Dee Fanglord" Langford
Tom "In The Green" Greenhalgh
Violin Susie "Samantha Herebemonsters" Honeyman
Harmonica Tom "In The Green" Greenhalgh
Banjo Jon "Dee Fanglord" Langford
Melodeon John "The Dubmaster General" Gill
Bagpipes Lu Cipher
Cumbus Lu Cipher
Norwegian Flute Lu Cipher
The Mekons: The Curse of the Mekons/Fun '90
The Curse of the Mekons was released in 1991, a banner year for what was suddenly being called alternative rock. True, the colors were just beginning to unfurl as the year ended--its signal release, a little something by Nirvana called Nevermind, didn't surface until September 24. Still, this was a boom time for many former undergrounders, from old hands like Nirvana's rabbis Sonic Youth to relative newcomers like Perry Farrell, of Jane's Addiction and the soon-famed Lollapalooza Festival. For the Mekons, however, it was like Nirvana never happened. Their moment was 1989, when Rock 'n' Roll came out on A&M. In the wake of that album's failure to render them solvent or famous, The Curse of the Mekons was, until now, the only post-1985 Mekons album never released in America. I caught them at a CMJ Halloween showcase that year. Mekons gigs rise and fall for many reasons, so maybe they were just flight-weary or not drunk enough, but they seemed dispirited. Drummer Steve Goulding, who had motored the surge that began with Fear and Whiskey in 1985, had already relocated to Chicago. Within a few years Jon Langford would follow and found the Waco Brothers, the most serious side project of his many-tentacled career, and Sally Timms would emigrate to Brooklyn, leaving Greenhalgh the Mekons' only Brit and putting a serious kibosh on rehearsals.
Alt-rock was no bastion of optimism. It dealt in angst, and political disaffection too. But it had a lot of what was lionized as "energy"--Nirvana and Pearl Jam went mainstream by galvanizing metal-inclined headbangers. Philosophically and personnelwise, the Mekons had no guitar god in them, and while they've always gone for a more '50s-rooted collective energy, Rock 'n' Roll was where that peaked for them. Said Greenhalgh of Rock 'n' Roll shortly after Curse appeared: "It feels like a job slightly too well done. I felt we were making a coherent Mekons album that for me isn't as interesting as pushing a bit further and maybe making something that you lose control over. I feel Curse has got slightly more depth to it. It's a bit more enigmatic--more open, broad, panoramic." Langford still preferred the earlier record, but he knew what Greenhalgh was talking about: "It's more relaxed. It has a different atmosphere--it's gentle in a way." A case in point is a cut that has only gained bite in the ensuing decade, Sally Timms's painfully crystalline reading of John Anderson's "Wild and Blue." Anderson will never be a totem like Buck Owens or Johnny Cash. But track for track this Nashvillian was the finest country artist of the '80s, and for a band that romanticized honky tonk to give him their all was a sure sign that they wanted more than rock 'n' roll, or alt-rock either.
Tempos are more moderate on The Curse of the Mekons. Much vague multivalent atmosphere seeps in between the sharper notes--synthesizer, harmonica, and bagpipes in addition to Susan Honeyman's violin. Greenhalgh's voice, which predominates, is querulous, preacherly, and tends toward a quavery falsetto. The overall feel is mournful--angst that's resigned, or maybe just depressed, but anyway not defiant in the style of Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder. Lest you suspect self-interest, however, what's got them down doesn't seem to be their failure to achieve fame or solvency--not explicitly, anyhow. Rather it's an event that for them will remain far more significant than Nirvanamania. They're "dinosaurs" that way, say so themselves. They care about glasnost, the Berlin Wall, the fall of (Soviet) communism. And in this, of course, they're very un-rock and roll. Neil Young may have sung with ambiguous brilliance about "Rockin' in the Free World." But it was a little hard to know just exactly what he meant by freedom. The Mekons, unusual enough for getting on "capitalism"'s case in so many words on their last sally, take it one step further this time. They utter the name of "socialism" itself.
The relevant text is track nine, the Langford-sung "Funeral," but it wouldn't mean as much if it didn't follow the Greenhalgh-sung "Sorcerer" and the Timms-sung "Brutal." Until it turns to a low-pitched guest rap by returning communard Kevin Lycett, "Sorcerer" is entirely in falsetto, the necromancer in question a "bourgeois sorcerer," seducing "whole populations" into--what? perhaps nothing more than contentment--with its "million factories/department stores and mills and banks." "The abyss is close to home," Greenhalgh warns over and over after Lycett has intoned his vision of a present smashed to bits by an inescapable "progress." "Brutal" is far less metaphoric, a drugs-in-history lecture featuring the East India Company, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the aforementioned Berlin Wall. That's why Langford carries so much weight when he reminds us that "this funeral is for the wrong corpse." Socialism isn't dead: "How can something really be dead when it hasn't even happened."
Like all the Mekons' records (Rock 'n' Roll is the exception), The Curse
of the Mekons fleshes out their anarchist principles by abjuring power--it's
messy, slightly inchoate, as unreconstructed and inconclusive as their nevertheless
radical politics. Summed up by "Funeral," it makes a point few Nirvanamaniacs
had the inclination or the historical knowledge to comprehend, perhaps even
to care about. It marks the end of the Mekons' working band period and the
beginning of their continuing life as freelance entrepreneurs in the marketplace
of information capitalism, where corporate hegemony and uncontainable chaos
chew eternally on each other's tails. It ends with Langford thanking Jesus
for their beers and their rhymes-with careers. No, actually it ends with a
"producer" saying: "Take it from the top, think girls, think
money, think Bermuda." Why do I doubt that any of the Mekons had ever
been to Bermuda? Why do I think they won't be spoiled if they do?
Of all punk's original sinners, only The Fall can claim
such longevity and quality control as Leeds's very own The Mekons. The stout
Yorkshire yeomen haven't abandoned the folk/country mash they started ingesting
in 1983 as a conduit for social/political protest and subsequent confessions
of alcoholic despair, but now it seems they've started rebelling against any
limitations. With three consistent songwriters, the result is a fascinating
pot-pourri, equal parts wild and blue, illuminated by horns, accordion, bagpipes
and grinding guitar jamborees. Broken down, The Curse Of the Mekons begins
to sound messy, and perhaps it is, from Funeral and "Blue Arse"'s
punkish vitriol and Sorcerer's proto-dance convulsion to Authority's uncanny
mix of metallic overdrive and gospel undertow and Brutal's bewitching acid
Greil Marcus on The Curse in German
Newsgroups: rec.music.reviews Subject: Mekons - "Curse of the Mekons" From: stewarte@sco.COM (Stewart Evans) Mekons -- Curse of the Mekons My first impression of this album was "of course, it's not as good as 'Rock & Roll', but then what is?" Their previous albums is still one of my favorites. However, the more I listen to this one the more I like it, and I'm no longer sure that it isn't as good as "Rock & Roll". I'm tempted to call the Mekons cynical, but that's not quite true; cynicism implies a certain amount of resignation, and the Mekons are anything but resigned. They're unrepentant socialists who protest that "this funeral is for the wrong corpse", and condemn the involvement of British and American governments in international drug trade in the lovely "Brutal". They're bitter about the state of the music industry, but they clearly recognize that the same forces that make rock a vehicle for "moving product" also give their own music much of its power. Because their stateside label, A&M, decided not to release "Curse" domestically, it's only available from Blast First! in the UK. The angry guitars here are tempered by mandolin, banjo, bagpipes and harmonica, but this is not folk-rock, except the waltz "Wild & Blue", one of the four songs featuring the wonderful Sally Timms on lead vox. The voices of Jon Langford and Tom Greenalgh suit the music but may be a bit of an acquired taste for those used to more - eh - polish. In short, this is powerful, intelligent music that animates the stinking corpse of rock long enough for it to spit in the face of the doctors still checking it for vital signs. -- Stewart
Follow the quotes:
the boy wakes up and rubs his eyes
wonders where the cannibal lies
I am abroad upon the deep
but I'll be back
always wakeful in old age
sleeping looks so much like death
best to pace the night cloaked deck
forget the tomb that lies beneath the planks
then I'll come back
and dance to him again
from "Moby Dick" (chapter 132 "The Symphony", Ahab talking to Starbuck on
the day before the final chase begins and refering to his wife and son
left behind in Nantucket):
"About this time - yes, it is his noon nap now - the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal od me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance to him again."
and in chapter 29:
"Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among sea-commanders, the old breybeards will oftenest leave their berths to visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now, of late, he seemed so much to live in open air, that truly speaking, his visits were more to the cabin, then from the cabin to the planks. 'It feels like going down into one's tomb,' - he would mutter to himself, - 'for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug berth.'"
where do murderers go man?
who's to doom when the judge is up for trial?
again chapter 132, behind the quote above:
"Look! See yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?"
Steve Terrell: Mekonmania
> The Santa Fe New Mexican
(Copyright 2001 Santa Fe New Mexican) Magic, fear and superstition. This is the curse of The Mekons ...
Well thats how The Mekons tell it. But anyone familiar with this divine gaggle of rag-tag underdog Brits, lunatic punks, honky-tonk heretics, noise-mongering visionaries, die-hard socialists and drunken louts realize that the curse of this band actually is one of their own making. Simply put, they refuse to play the music industry game they dont compromise, they dont play ball even though their strange musical instincts ensure that they will never widen their audience beyond critics, like myself, who think we recognize a kernel of that elusive Rock n Roll Truth in Jon Langfords snarl and Sally Timms sweet coo, and an illuminated few who believe Tom Greenhalgh when he proclaims, Ive been to Heaven and back!
Unlike the mythical Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Mekons dont keep going in and out of style. They just keep going further out of style. Clunky punky guitars clash with fiddle and accordion, giving a Salvation Army street band sheen to the music even when they veer off into dub reggae and acid-house experiments. And yet The Mekons are determined to muddle on, releasing album after album even though members are scattered over two continents.
Some Mekonian scholars believe the bands most creative period was in the late 80s and early 90s, a time in which The Mekons actually danced with the Great Satan of major labeldom. Their two albums of this period, The Mekons Rock n Roll (1989) and The Curse of The Mekons (1991) recently were re-released on Collectors Choice Music (www.collectorschoicemusic.com). This marks the first time ever that Curse ever has been released in the U.S.
In the re-issues liner notes, dean-of-rock-critics Robert Christgau points out the irony of the Mekons losing their contract with A&M Records in 1991, the year that Nirvanas Nevermind shook the music industry, paving the way for what was once called alternativeo music. Such is the curse of the Mekons.
Listening to the glorious The Mekons Rock n Roll, it makes you wonder why the brain trust at A&M didnt promote this album like crazy. Its undoubtedly the most accessible and upbeat (at least until you start listening to the lyrics) album the band ever made. They could have scooped Nevermind by two years. All across Alternative Nation Gen-X kids would have been hopping around chirping the chorus of Only Darkness Has the Power,o the screech of Susie Honeymans fiddle piercing the airwaves before we ever heard Kurt Cobains feedbacking guitar. Yep, the money would have rolled in and the self- disgust level of Greenhalgh, Langford and Timms would have reached dangerous highs. Of course the album was the most delicious indictments of the music industry since Elvis Costellos Radio Radio. The album was stuffed full of lyrics attacking The Biz. Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late/the battles we fought were long and hard/just not to be consumed by rock n roll... are the opening lines of Memphis, Egypt. nd thats just the first song. In the next cut Club Mekon Timms directly compares rock n roll with prostitution. Of course, shes celebrating both.
By Amnesiao the Mekons have put the birth of rock n roll not in some happy archetypal Mississippi roadhouse or New Orleans whorehouse but aboard a damned slave ship. And Langford rages at contemporary imperialistic, militaristic implications of rock: any old army high on drugs fighting that rock n roll war/truth justice and Led Zeppelin heavy metal marine corps. Happily this new version of Rock n Roll includes two songs the anthemic Heaven and Backo and the almost folkish Ring O Roses that were inexplicably cut by A&M in the original American version. The fact that something as brilliant as The Curse of The Mekons couldnt find a home on an American label for 10 years only adds to the loathing of the industry felt by anyone with a heart or brain. Slightly more relaxed and definitely less bombastic than Rock n Roll, Curse contains some essential Mekon material, such as Langfords commentary on the fall of communism, Funeral,o in which he spits at those dancing on the grave of socialism. How can something really be dead when it hasnt really happened? Theres a crazed march Authorityo and yes, those are bagpipes you hear in the mix and Brutalo a musical history of the drug war, going back to the Opium War in China, sung by Timms over a mutated reggae soundscape.
Sally shines even more than usual on this album with the song Secretso (featuring a spoken segment in German), Waltzo (one of the prettiest melodies the Mekons ever recorded, featuring a sweet acoustic guitar) and an understated cover of John Andersons country hit Wild and Blue.o This re-issue contains the complete F.U.N. 90 4-song EP, which was the last Mekon product ever released by A&M. Theres a sad version of The Bands Makes No Differenceo (the original is much better) and the lo-fi acid-house weirdness of One-Horse Towno featuring a tape of the late critic Lester Bangs stumbling through Hank Williams Rambling Man.
If youve ever been tempted to join the cult of the Mekons, these two CDs would be as good a place as any to start. My advice is to destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late. Such is the blessing of the Mekons.