Some reviews from Club Mekon:
Hey Ollie, of course I got mine. Bought from our locally owned
alt-record store, Atomic Records. They had lots, incidentally. They're
The first song, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, is a surprising mix of
singing and instruments, surprising even for the Mekes. Culminating as
a sing along bash-song.
The second, Dancing in the Head, is spoken by Sally and is a hilarious
diatribe about zombies and human love.
The next, This way through the fire, could have been anthemic or
dirgelike, but neatly splits the difference with Jonboy reaching for
some higher harmonies with the ladies. Short on lyrics, but kind of a
nice little interlude.
Hate is the New Love is spoke/sung by Sally in a breathy voice. Could
have been a coda for Last Night on Earth. Beautiful song, and the
lyrics are written from the scarred but smarter viewpoint.
I've forgotten More Than I Care To Remember is a singalong. Wide open
to interpretation as far as the lyrics, but I'm convinced: Take his
name in vain.
Next, Only You And Your Ghost Will Know sounds like a song to long gone
Even a cover, Lone Pilgrim, that I think is an old traditional country
or bluegrass number. Tom Sings, what else do you need to know?
Winter. The cheeriest darn winter song I've ever heard. Some excellent
One X One
Bob Hope And Charity. It doesn't matter to me, the title is all I
needed to hear. Love it.
Stonehead. Kind of a loping stoner song. Could be a great lost Willie
Overall, the album is a hoot, full of anger, optimism, art and violence.
Like many Mekons records. And many of the choruses contain some version
of 'oooooh'. Kelly Hogan's vocals are an excellent counterpoint to
Sally's. Most of the songs are sung by several people, making
excellent use of the Mekes multitudinous vocal talents. The last album
seems to have made them a lot more confident in their vocals.
And I don't hear any reggae either. Maybe just a bit of influence.
Quite a range of music, a bit like Honky Tonkin or So Good It Hurts.
It's already moving up into the best Mekons albums for me.
And somehow I got one without the extra track. Guess I gotta keep
buying them till I score. The cover is a great old fashioned punk
collage. Looks like something form the Fear and Whiskey era.
Two more cents:
I bought it off the net. Arrived on the 20th. I played it immediately after
work, sounded all right. I drank some drinks, sounded better. Started
sounding GREAT. I played it nonstop for five hours. There were people over.
I think they begged for some Gram Parsons. Give me a break. Thatís what they
said, and I echoed that back at them. Eventually they left.
Whatís this? Beginning of a Fife & Drum song? Nope. Kelly Hogan, or somebody
not Tom falsetto or Sally begins oooh. The vocals on the Jerusalem song
sound much like Sacred Harp singing from down below the ignorance line, with
instruments behind (not allowed in your local Primitive Baptist Church).
Next single? The Lu / Susan outro? Hysterical punk rock. Heroic. Historic,
and half-baked. Iíll play it again. A fiddle train wreck.
It is the Mekonsí Gospel album. Not in the Slow Train Coming vein; there is
preaching on this, but not that kind of preaching. These are people who
worship on the wrong side of the road.
The Sally talk song (a requirement)) invokes the line ìdancing in your
headî, or something along those lines. Is that not the name of the ground
breaking Ornette Coleman album everybody went nuts about? Virgin Beauty
beats it all to shit.
Reggae beat? Reggae Beat? I hear no Reggae, but the island beat from years
ago is in it. Calypso? More African than that. Sallyís ìbreathy vocalî on
some song is monumental. Susan Honeyman is going to win a fiddle award from
Violin Magazine if sheís not careful. Lu slides on this and,
everybody-everybody sings. There is no island african beat involved but they
are invoking Jesusí name, or the name of somebody like him.
Itís a brilliant piece of work. You start wondering if Tom is going to get a
lead vocal and the next thing you know he is a Stone Head then suddenly, he
is THE Stone Head.
Itís short. 37 minutes, I think. Journey To The End of The Night was a
little over 40. Me? 5 minutes of silence after the great cheap organ recital
fleshed out that CD to an admirable length.
Itís all good. File under Mekons.
"It is the Mekonsí Gospel album. Not in the Slow Train Coming vein;
preaching on this, but not that kind of preaching. These are people
worship on the wrong side of the road."
from "Hate is the new love" - "...dangerous bibles, all moving for
Can I worship on that side of the road too? This is easily one their
top 3 cds made I believe. I'll put it up there with my other two
favs "Fear & Whiskey" and "Curse".
"Thee olde trip to Jerusalem", "Take his name in vain",
and "Stonehead" are instant classics. Can't wait for the Madison,
and Chicago shows. Madison should be well worth the drive for
Chicago folks as the Mekes will be debuting most of this material,
and playing extra long rumour has it. Tix are going for only $10 at
B-side, and say hi to Pete. Pete, if you are reading this did you
make it to Merle? The Hag is in great form, and put on an awesome
show last Wed in Madtown.
So I'd read the good reviews on this list, and in the press, and I'd even
heard a few of the new songs on live recordings, and it was all enough to
make me cautiously optimistic about the new Mekons album. Cautiously,
because I'd heard similar raves on the release of Me and Journey, and
while I like both albums well enough, neither has muscled its way into my
personal playlist the way the late '80s/early '90s records did. (Try as I
might, I still don't hear Journey as reminiscent of So Good It Hurts, as
someone here tried to insist.)
I was even going to wait until the Mekons came to town in a couple weeks
to buy my copy of OOOH!, the better to ensure my cash goes directly to
subsidize the Mekes' lavish lifestyles without being diverted by any
fiendish Touch and Go middlemen - but then I found myself in the East
Village this morning with some time to kill, so I stopped in at Sounds.
After paying the ever-surly clerk ("Don't bother with the six cents, I'll
probably find that much on the floor at some point"), I popped the CD into
my portable player, and set off down Third Ave. toward the train.
The moment I heard Jon's voice warbling that "the seed of the devil lives
on in men," I knew it. It wasn't even the music per se - the driving
rhythms (English folk influences or no, this is very much a punk rock
record), the haunting gospel-inspired choruses, the lyrics simultaneously
chilling and inspirational (with an extra helping of "the Mekons' patented
multiple layers of meaning," as Chuck Eddy might once have called it), the
lush wall-of-sound production, the best integration of Susie's fiddle and
Lu's saz since, well, ever - but rather something more basic: the return
of the angry, funny, defiant spirit that had drawn me to the Mekons in the
first place; the declaration that though we are doomed, we're going to
throw one hell of an end of the world party. For all the charms of the
last two albums, they were both very cerebral in their own ways. On OOOH!,
the Mekons are very much out of their heads, in all the hope and fear and
glory and horror that implies, and I for one am glad.
...and now this is turning into the kind of rock-crit verbiage that I
despise, but before I go I do want to add that Christgau was right about
one thing: OOOH! is very much a soundtrack for Bush's New Crusades, just
as Curse was for his father's old one. When the heavy metal Marine Corps
comes for me, I'll be blasting "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" to keep them
(Okay, he was right about two things: it *is* the Mekons' best record in a
decade. And that's a damn fine thing.)
a review from allmusic.com that's gushing with
What a long, strange trip it's been, indeed. OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads) is the 25th anniversary recording by the ubiquitous Mekons, a band from Leeds that, in one incarnation or another, has been confounding and delighting both audiences and critics since the beginning. John Langford, the band's unofficial frontman since the beginning, has cajoled, bribed, pleaded with, and threatened most of the band's original members — Tom Greenhalgh, Sally Tims, Rico Bell, Sarah Corina, Steve Goulding, Lu Headmonds, Susie Honeyman, Ken Lite — and a few guests from Chicago (where he resides) in Edith Frost, Kelly Hogan, and producer Ken Sluiter — to churn out the finest Mekons album since Rock & Roll, if not Fear and Whiskey. While the mix of country and rock tunes will be familiar to fans, the intensity will not. This is a Mekons recording that pulls out all the stops and brings their deeply rooted psychobilly country base to the fore while engaging their punk roots with abandon (they could show the Vines and the Hives more than a few new tricks) — check out the first two tracks, "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" and "Dancing in the Head." When slipping over into deeper country waters, as they do on "Hate in the New Love" and "The Way Through the Fire," as well as "Take His Name in Vain" (with a stunning chanted group chorus) and "Lone Pilgrim" (with an amazing vocal by Timms), the band indulge a certain British electric folk sensibility as well that wouldn't be out of place on an old Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention recording. In other words, these old dogs have plenty of life left in them as a band. If Langford could keep this version of the band o together for some time, they might actually reach a few thousand more souls on their way into rock & roll history — though given this fine disc, who can say how far into the future that might be? A great place to start, a fine place to continue if you've been on the Mekons road for a bit, and if you are already a fan, this is essential. —
Oooh! It's The Mekons
The 25-year-old band offer up a CD for a post 9/11 world
by Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate
Thursday, August 22, 2002
The more one listens to a Mekons record -- at least one as powerful as the new Oooh! -- the more one realizes that liberation from the human condition can come only after slogging through it.
A good Mekons record, like Oooh! or its brilliant predecessor, Journey to the End of the Night, is a wake-up call -- a term that can't be used lightly in this post-9/11 world. But despite occasional injections of their congenital dry British humor ("Bob Hope & Charity"), the Mekons are dead serious about sounding alarms. On the relatively brief Oooh!, which clocks in under 38 minutes, they warn about "dangerous bibles" and "old familiar vampires" that "are sucking our power." Rather than offering the stereotypical escape through rock 'n' roll, however, they turn us toward the horror, making us delirious with images of "the plunder & the killing" in a context of swirling, off-kilter folk rock tinged with dub, Middle Eastern and country-and-western sounds.
Oooh! was released on Tuesday, Aug. 20 to coincide with the band's 25th anniversary tour, which brings them to the Starry Plough in Berkeley on Thursday, Sept. 5 and to Slim's in S.F. on Friday, Sept. 6. A commemorative book of lyrics, illustrations and photos, Hello Cruel World, is also being published.
Yes, the Mekons have been at this for 25 years, since emerging from the punk scene in Leeds with the 1977 release of their single "Never Been in a Riot." Although they live far from one another, in England, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, the current members -- Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh, Sally Timms, Susie Honeyman, Rico Bell, Steve Goulding, Lu Edmonds and Sarah Corina -- come together often enough to be considered a semi-permanent working band. More important, they coalesce with a musical and social vision all too rare in this time of permanent war against an abstract enemy, unabashed assaults on civil liberties and instant bureaucratic revisions of history.
Oooh! offers no outward signs that it was recorded as a response to last year's 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. The Mekons leave their recording credits undated and keep their historical and political references oblique, metaphorical and archetypal. The 11-song album begins by taking "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem," with haunted voices going "oooh oooh" against sounds (scratchy guitar, cymbals, fiddle, hand claps) that evoke a creaky wagon on a dusty road. Chantlike vocals make this declaration/citation: "The seed of the devil lives on in men / Verses 4 5 6 chapters 8 9 10." But soon enough the song is pulled into the age of imperial capitalism via wordplay: "They'll be building up the temple / On the back of the people / Sign of the profit."
Like allusions to religion ("Take His Name in Vain"), Armageddon ("This Way Through the Fire") and death ("Lone Pilgrim," a traditional song Bob Dylan learned from a Doc Watson record and sang on 1993's World Gone Wrong), the "ooohs" crop up again and again until, in the final song, "Stonehead," they are revealed to stand for "out of our heads."
That makes you go back and listen to the album again and realize how many songs address the way we create our own realities in our minds, and how our minds are colonized by the powers that be. Over a dervish-dub soundtrack, the CD's second song, "Dancing in the Head," includes spoken-word instructions on the manufacture, care and feeding of zombies: "Take an American dollar / Soak it with rum and burn it / Mix this with the modeling clay."
In this light, the rest of the songs, whether sung by individually by Langford, Timms or Greenhalgh, or by a collective Mekons-and-friends chorus, seem to be about the struggle against globalization's equivalent of "The Night of the Living Dead." "I've forgotten more than I care to remember / Try to tell me something / please, please keep trying ... Feel me dancing on that grave / A shiver through a cloudy pain" ("Take His Name in Vain"); "The friends you have found / It's like they've all gone to ground / The company you're keeping's / The same as when you're sleeping / The same as when you're dreaming" ("Only You and Your Ghost Will Know").
It's tempting to surrender to the demons, the Mekons admit. "I saw the belly of the beast / It was warm and open / Blood lay all around," they sing in "Winter," turning The Mamas & the Papas' sunny "California Dreaming" outside in. "I crawled inside / & lay down to sleep / All through the winter." But even if there's no sure light at the end of the tunnel, and "All the eyes are closing one by one," the Mekons persist in their quest for truth, if not beauty.
The truth may be ugly, they have been saying for years, the landlords and rulers have their feet on our necks, but solidarity and struggle are still worth the effort, even if it means we all go down together. "It won't take long for the storm to pass / Let me in, let me help you / Don't make me go away / This is the price we pay," they sing on "One X One."
Listening to Oooh! over and over, I can't help but think about why I don't do the same with Bruce Springsteen's 9/11-answer album, The Rising, which will sell untold millions more copies this year than the Mekons will in their entire career. For all its E-Street pomp and circumstance, The Rising ultimately sounds manicured and empty. For all its sincere allusions to blood ("flowin' down"), hell ("brewin' dark"), devils ("in the mailbox") fire, faith, courage and duty, The Rising's last best hope seems to be "waitin' on sunny day," partying down at "Mary's Place" and engaging in a little friendly "skin to skin" fornication before the anthrax really hits the fan.
The Mekons may not have any more definitive answers than Springsteen, who claims to have been "out in the desert ... Searchin' through the dust, lookin' for a sign." But they aren't so keen on finding them, either, for the Mekons long ago realized confusion comes with the territory of being human, and easy solutions do not.
Moreover, unlike the Jersey rock icon, they have never spoken in an officially sanctioned language, either in terms of their ragged musical amalgam or their splintered poetic lyrics. Maybe because they have no noble salt-of-the-earth image to uphold, and certainly no economic station to safeguard, the Mekons have made a career, such as it is, of calling the bosses' bluff. I doubt they intended to, but with Oooh! they have called the Boss', as well.
The biggest difference is not intention. Who but the most cynical can question that of the man responsible for Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad and "My City of Ruins"? It's more a matter of looking more deeply into the sources of our misery and untangling the web of complicity. Springsteen might agree with the Mekons that "In the end we're broken pieces / Stuck like glue," but judging by The Rising, I doubt he could say it so compactly. It's in the recognition of mutual culpability that the Mekons really hold the trump card. In Oooh's most unashamedly beautiful song, "Hate Is the New Love," with Honeyman's fiddle underscoring the aching melancholy, Timms sings, "When we say we've had enough / We know we really want more / Every day is a battle / How we still love the war."
If these were marching bands, Bruce's E-Streeters could lead the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade down Fifth Avenue; the Mekons would be consigned to a small New Orleans funeral procession in the seedy end of the French Quarter. I know which number I'd rather be in while trudging toward salvation.
Rating: 8.0 (out of 10
Screw the Pistols: 2002 year marks 25 years of Mekons. They've been slinging their backwoods punk cowboy music more-or-less steadily for over two decades. Sure, their last record, Journey to the End of the Night, sounded a little mellow, like they were growing resigned to their age-- from its slow tunes and gloomy title, you'd think they were picking which belongings to take with them to the nursing home, and getting ready to put the cat to sleep. But suddenly, here they are with an anniversary record that, while not quite as wild as the ones they made in their prime, sounds raucous and brutally alive.
Recorded in their adopted home of Chicago, the ill-titled OOOH! is a return to textbook Mekons-- from gracefully shambling country to deep-beating tribal rhythms, by way of good, clean rock 'n roll. Susie Honeymoon's fiddle whistles and squeaks as she opens the album; Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh share roadhouse guitars, and Steve Goulding's drums crack the floorboards. And it's full of detail: the birdlike vocal harmonies fluttering over the end of "Take His Name in Vain"; the thick moans of "I am a stonehead" that open the last track; the squirrely guitars and violin on "Bob Hope & Charity," and Sally Timm's strange narratives and poetry.
Singing lead are Langford, vocal cords still sounding like twisted roots on a stunted tree, and Timms, who's especially great with her weary vocals on "Hate Is the New Love." But they also make everyone else sing: up to a dozen people, including the whole band, plus local country chanteuse Kelly Hogan and pop queen Edith Frost. Every big chorus kicks off with a raucous singalong or choir-like swells, and hearing everybody in the studio bellow together may be the best part of the album.
These eleven songs-- all new, aside from old-time weeper "Lone Pilgrim"-- cross straight rock and country with shambling performances and weirdo primitivist lyrics. The band opens with the stomping, militant "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" ("The seed of the devil lives on in men"), and then switch religions to the voodoo weirdness and ritual-rock guitars of "Dancing in the Head." And "Winter" lumbers happily along with lyrics about all the crazy pagan shit you can do in the shut-in months: "I saw the belly of the beast/ It was warm and open/ Blood lay all around/ I crawled inside." Yeah, those Chicago winters are a bitch.
But the Mekons do just as well at slower tempos, with aching ballads ("Hate is the New Love") and the warm country tones of "Stonehead." And unlike many bands in their later years, when they do choose to slow down a little, it doesn't detract from their delivery-- they still come off powerful, angry, and inventive. Not many of these new songs are likely to make the band's canon (though none are less than solid); there's nothing new, crazy or different. It's just their best record in years. And if they continue to inspire each other at these levels, the next quarter-century should treat them well.
-Chris Dahlen, August 22nd, 2002
August 28, 2002 Volume 38 Issue 31
justify your existence
The Onion: Why should anyone buy your record?
Jon Langford (guitar/vocals): [submitted via e-mail] It would be a
good, rocking investment and a token of their appreciation for all
our painful sacrifices over the years.
O: Do you think your record will help people?
JL: It will help people more than an invasion of Iraq, but not as
much as a good fish dinner or a warm body pressed against theirs on a
O: Do you think your record could save lives?
JL: It could save more lives than an invasion of Iraq, but not as
many as a seatbelt or a nice thick condom.
O: Is this record your ticket to heaven?
JL: We have seen heaven and it's called Sydney Fish Market, but this
record probably won't get us back there any time soon.
The Mekons' newest album is titled OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads).
This is from the Chicago Sun Times:
Spin Control August 18, 2002
**** The Mekons, "Oooh!" (QuarterStick)
The ever-eclectic and always-challenging Mekons have been many different
bands over the course of their long and storied career: an aggressive punk
group, a rollicking roots-rock band, and (at times) a twisted country combo.
On this, their strongest, most focused album in more than a decade, they
play a vital form of folk-rock that includes elements of all of those
sounds, as well as hints of traditional Welsh and Celtic music, coming
together for a stew that can only be described as pure Mekons.
On the album, recorded in the wake of 9/11, an air of mourning and quiet
resolve hangs over the tracks, with the lyrics hinting at Old World biblical
reckoning ("Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem"), a deep and pervasive anger at the
warmongers among us ("Hate Is the New Love"), and the absurdity of those who
kill in the name of religion ("Take His Name In Vain"). But unlike "The
Rising" by Bruce Springsteen, the lyrics are open-ended enough to speak to
the greater human condition above and beyond recent events, avoiding empty
romanticism in favor of a poignant questioning.
As the vocals are divided between the band's Chicago contingent (Jon
Langford and the great Sally Timms, with assists from guests Edith Frost and
Kelly Hogan) and its British faction (co-founder Tom Greenhalgh and Sarah
Corina), Rico Bell provides his usual six-string magic as Steve Goulding
deftly propels the rhythms. The music is also infinitely more subtle,
nuanced, and engaging than the latest from the E Street Band, who have also
turned to a Celtic underpinning (something about the ancient music of the
British Isles speaks to troubled souls in difficult times).
According to the Mekons, the album title stands for "Out of Our Heads." But
this is actually some of the sanest and most passionate music I've heard in
this last complicated year. Longtime fans will love this disc, while
newcomers who've never cared about the group in the past may find a point of
entry that will open up a rewarding new world.
The Mekons are beloved by their dedicated cult following for their spontaneous, rough-and-ready, anything-goes attitude, but it sounds like a great deal of time and care went into the making of OOOH! (an acronym for "out of our heads"). One of the most impressively produced Mekons albums in recent memory, OOOH! arrives in time to commemorate the 25th anniversary of these first-generation UK punks-gone-eclectic. That eclecticism makes itself felt with echoes of reggae, country, folk, and world music (witness Lu Edmonds's middle Eastern saz and Steve Goulding's exotic rhythm patterns on "Dancing in the Head"). "Take His Name in Vain" picks up the thread of drunken church hymns from the last album, and "The Olde Trip to Jerusalem" sports the mix of rock & roll energy, sophisticated lyricism, and political rebellion that is a major part of the Mekons magic. A quarter of a century down the road, the Mekons sound ready to go for another 25, a prospect for which their ravenous fans are undoubtedly game.
BY Dave Luhrssen
The raw simplicity of punk rock wasn't a prison for England's Mekons; it was the key to any highway they cared to travel. Their 1985 Fear and Whiskey, reissued now on CD, is classed as an alt country influence, but really, the music opens onto a less-known landscape. The fiddling is more Celtic session than Nashville jamboree; dub echoes and punk guitars flare on the drunkenly anthemic "Hard to be Human Again." But "Flitcraft" pushes toward a synthesis of punk and two-step, and the collection concludes with a boozy take on "Lost Highway." Fear and Whiskey a country record? It's closer to the truth to rank it with London Calling and the best albums to emerge from punk.
Likewise, the Mekons' new CD Oooh! can only be called punk-but with a spongelike ability to absorb everything from wah-wah pedals to spooky harmonies, bent balladry, thunderous tribal bears and, yes, echoes of old-time country.
"If we can keep doing stuff that's interesting, it's not ludicrous us having been around for 25 years."
When punk first raised its spiky head, about a quarter century ago, no one imagined that it would not only last, but influence almost everything that's come in its wake. And certainly nobody - not even the band themselves - would have believed that one of punk's most ramshackle organizations, the Mekons, would make it to 25 years.
"No," agreeD founding member Jon Langford, "maybe when we got to 20 years, we thought possibly, but there's never much thinking ahead with us anyway; there never has been."
It's been a long, rocky path from their beginnings at Leeds University in England. But they're still around, and celebrating their silver anniversary with a new album, Oooh!. While it has that unmistakably ragged Mekons sound, the singing has a decidedly smoother quality than usual. To Langford, "all the vocals sound pretty insane. We worked on them a lot, it's definitely a vocal-based thing. More like the concept of having lots of people singing together, a soccer crowd-cum-Baptist choir."
While they've always been very political, the band's always been known for its elliptical lyrics. But in the scorching opener, "The Long Trip To Jerusalem," concerning the ongoing social and political divide in Britain, they're at their most explicit.
"I was thinking about some English traditions of socialism," Langford explained. "I've been reading a lot about Blake, and reading E.P. Thompson about Blake is particularly interesting. You can't get that much into a three minute song, but that's the beauty of it in a way; you can tip your hat in all different directions."
To commemorate their time together, along with the new record, the band will be touring the U.S., and "there's going to be an illustrated lyric book coming out, and a touring art show which will travel with us. If we can keep doing stuff that's interesting, it's not ludicrous us having been around for 25 years. The criticisms we get are when we don't play enough new songs, because we've been too lazy to learn them. The people who are into us expect us to be pushing ahead all the time."
And they've always done just that, whether it was injecting punk into country in the '80s, long before the term alt-country was even a gleam in a journalist's eye, dipping a toe into world music waters with 1987's So Good It Hurts, or biting the corporate hand that briefly fed them; the Mekons have always gone their own way, willful and anarchic. Even the booklet artwork of Oooh! Is meant to reflect that history, with "25 years of futile and intense activity. Loads of things scrawled, and other things scrawled on top. Even if we haven't been that busy much of the time, there's been that illusion of intense activity."
In reality, for many years Mekons has been just one facet of expression for many of the members: Langford plays in several others bands, in addition to being a well-regarded artist. Sally Timms and Rico Bell both have solo careers, and Lu Edmonds is one of Billy Bragg's Blokes. How do they manage to keep it all straight?
"We have to plan well in advance," Langford admitted. "But we're in a really good position, with the label and the agency we're with, so we don't have the logistical problems we once had - we're no longer fighting 'the man,' which was really boring anyway. It nearly broke the band up a few times. Now we can think about what we want to do and make the records we want to make. We made some great records in peoples' basements, and we can do that again if it's fun, but there's a different thing going on now. We can say 'We're going to be the Mekons for a month here, a month there.'"
But with 25 years down, what are the possibilities of a Mekons golden jubilee? Will they still be easing onstage with their walking frames in 2027?
"I was hoping we could be like a soccer team," Langford said, "bringing in young blood and putting some of the old codgers on the bench, but it doesn't seem to work like that - the oldest ones seem to be the most tenacious. The only way you can leave is in a box. If there are some people who aren't dead after 50 years, they can probably continue."
Ten Records That Render Life Bearable Whilst Simultaneously Making the World Seem Like a Malevolent and Overwhelming Place, and Two Activities That Fill Up the Endless River of Empty Hours That Flows Elegantly Before Me in a Cascading Arc Across the Horizon; by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats
1. The Mekons: Oooh!
Pretty easily one of the best records to come out this year, and probably the last push I'll need toward becoming totally obsessed with the Mekons, who are loved by more or less everyone I respect. What the Bad Seeds might sound like if Nick would just knock it off with those confounded piano ballads, already.
Twenty-five years into their career and with countless side-projects on the go, it's amazing that the Mekons can continually put out records of this quality. Oooh! is a solid album that combines all of the elements that make the Mekons work so well: British folk, American country, traditional spirituals, old world imagery and, of course, a heavy dose of punk rock snarl. Jon Langford's big vocals just keep getting stronger, Sally Timms is as elegant a chanteuse as ever and when the whole nine-piece band get together to sing along on songs like "The Olde Trip To Jerusalem" and "Take His Name In Vain," it's hard not to raise your glass and join in. At this rate, the Mekons seem poised to rage on for at least another quarter century — God bless 'em. Elizabeth Chorney-Booth
From Village Voice
Their best album in a decade doesn't exactly come up and give you a kiss. Half 9-11 fallout, half night thoughts of a band whose heyday is past, it begins with what seems a faux-folk trope until you realize that "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" is also the new crusade, and ends with the impassive boast, "We pride ourselves that our memory/Will vanish from the memory of the world." It's slow, sour, dark, grimó obsessed with treachery, conflagration, and death. For years the Time Out of Mind fan club has been finding unfathomable fatalism in folk songs that rarely gather the grounded gravity sustained here. Inspirational Verse (really, think about it): "Everyday is a battle/How we still love the war."
From Pioneer Press
Mekons go out of their heads
BY ROBERT LOERZEL
A bunch of British art-school students started a band called the Mekons in 1977, with the idea that they didn't know how to play their instruments and didn't really need to.
After all, they didn't plan to make any records - or do anything other than make a lot of noise.
After landing a record deal at their first "shambolic" gig, the Mekons embarked on a weird musical odyssey, including encounters with spitting concertgoers and uncomprehending record-company executives, stabs at Hank Williams-style country music, collaborative art shows and 20 albums' worth of the best rock music you've probably never heard.
Somewhere along the way, they did learn how to play their instruments, and a couple of the Mekons ended up living in Chicago.
Celebrating their 25th anniversary - as well as the release of one of their strongest albums yet, a new art exhibit and a book of collected lyrics - the Mekons will play a series of four area shows this month, including a stop at FitzGerald's in Berwyn.
The story of how the Mekons developed their new album, "OOOH! (Out of Our Heads)," may be unique in the annals of rock history. The album started out as an art exhibit last year in Britain.
The band members created sculptures and paintings inspired by ancient stories involving the human head.
"It's ... all those myths about these sort of singing heads, heads that could be cut off but somehow are still alive," said singer-guitarist Jon Langford, a Mekon who lives in Chicago and plays in several other bands, including the Waco Brothers. "You chop the head off and ... you get in touch with the animal inside you or something. It's all pretty crazy stuff."
A rampaging group of hooligans - "We prefer to refer to them as art critics," Langford says - broke into a Manchester gallery where the Mekons art show was on display and smashed most of it to bits. One of the Mekons videotaped the aftermath, turning this act of destruction into another work of art.
In the meantime, the Mekons were transforming the ideas behind the art show into an album filled with the band's distinctive unison singing featuring four or more vocalists at a time.
In addition to beheadings, the Mekons were also thinking about William Blake and various radical religious sects that popped up in England centuries ago, including the Muggletonians.
These interests aren't typical subject matter for rock lyrics, but the Mekons have never shied away from exploring intellectual concepts, although they do it in a way that usually seems fun rather than heavy.
"Anglo-Saxon culture has a deep phobia of anything that whiffs of intellectualism," said singer-guitarist Tom Greenhalgh, who lives in England. "It should be possible to think about deep things without having to take yourself too seriously."
"I don't see why history or intelligent thought is something that should be reviled," Langford said. "I really hate that anti-intellectualism that is so prevalent everywhere. It's almost like it's uncool to have a serious thought about anything."
"It's about reclaiming - rediscovering - a tradition of radical dissent, about trying to know your own history," Greenhalgh said. "Things haven't always been the way we're led to believe."
Singer Sally Timms, who lives in Chicago, said the CD's opening track, "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem," was an attempt at creating the sound of a choir from one of those religious sects.
"We kind of wanted it to sound like you had just wandered by a tiny chapel and heard a load of people in there singing," Timms said. "And you were standing at the doorway, going, 'What the (expletive) are they singing about?' ... You had just stumbled across some bizarre sect of people, who were just singing away to their heart's content, to themselves."
A bizarre sect of people singing to their heart's content is an apt description of the Mekons themselves. Langford said the Mekons have made some of their best music when they didn't think anyone was paying attention.
"It was kind of a good way to make music, when you really do think no one is listening," he said. "Kind of liberating. You can just do whatever you want. We were just having fun making music, you know?"
The Mekons are known for their sometimes raucous live shows, with a lot of humorous banter and antics to complement the music. They plan to continue playing as long as they can.
"Why stop?" Timms said. "It takes more effort to stop than to keep going at this point."
She said it's all but impossible to quit the Mekons.
"People have left and then they come back," she said. "You see the look in their faces, that we're dragging them through this horrible ... existence. They leave for a while, and then they realize they can't help themselves, so back they come."
Long lived rock!
The Mekons celebrate 25 years of rock
By Greg Kot
Next week, it's the battle of the dueling British rock anniversaries. The
Rolling Stones march through town celebrating their 40th year as one of
rock's most successful moneymaking machines. And the Mekons will mark
their 25th birthday as the world's longest-running transcontinental punk
band with four concerts and an art exhibit in Chicago.
Though the Stones will command the most attention, bet on the Mekons to
put on the more adventurous shows. At the very least, they'll be a heck of
a lot cheaper. The Mekons would need a month to address a history with
more detours, dead-ends and sudden shifts than Jack Nicholson encountered
chasing through that snowy maze in the "The Shining."
Instead, they'll try to summarize 25 years in three concerts (plus an
acoustic set Sept. 13 at the Cultural Center and an art exhibit that opens
Sept. 14 at Eastwick Gallery):
¥ Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Fireside Bowl, 1977 to '83: See avant-noise
experiments, street-corner ranting and eerie nocturnes negotiate an uneasy
co-existence. Mekons' founder Jon Langford remembers those days with a
laugh: "Devices like knowing what the chords were to the songs, we'd
reject as just a cheap gimmick."
¥ Friday, Sept. 13, at Abbey Pub, 1985-91: The middle-period shows will
showcase a more pronounced honky-tonk feel ("Fear and Whiskey"), with bits
of dub reggae and hints of techno. Mekons accordionist and singer Rico
Bell: "The songs are based on a country feel, but we do odd things to
them." Langford: "With the country stuff, we liked Ernest Tubb and Hank
Williams, but when we tried to play like them, we always got it slightly
wrong. That was the approach to folk music down through the ages: three
chords and a few simple words passed down, and each time it's changed,
adapted by the person who sings them."
¥ Sept. 14 at FitzGerald's, 1993-present: The '90s set will find the
Mekons dabbling in everything from should-have-been Top-40 pop
("Millionaire") to performance art ("Pussy, King of the Pirates"), while
reaffirming their mastery of the 3 a.m. ballad in "Journey to the End of
the Night" (2000) and the agit-politics of the just-released "Oooh!"
If anything, the shows survey a career that -- unlike the Stones'
increasingly tired output -- has not lost its vitality or relevance.
"Oooh!" couldn't be more of the moment. It opens with "Thee Olde Trip to
Jerusalem," a song reeking of dread and anxiety, full of howling voices
and handclaps, a rickety gospel hymn to "the plunder and the killing, over
"Thee Old Trip to Jerusalem" kicks off an album that sounds like it was
written in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, not before it.
"I thought we should say in a press release that it's got nothing to do
with that," says singer Sally Timms. "All the religious clap-trap that
surfaces in this country every time something serious happens, it casts a
whole different light on this record."
The Mekons have never backed away from a good fight, a band built on the
Dylanesque premise that art shouldn't reflect culture, it should subvert
it. The band was forged in the punk crucible of Leeds, England, in 1977,
found new purpose in playing benefit shows for the miners strike that
crippled the British working class in the early '80s, and has continued to
be a voice of the marginalized ever since. The Mekons know their subject
well, for the band members themselves have long subsisted on the fringe of
pop culture. The eight principal band members are now scattered across two
continents, yet are making more stimulating music than ever.
Cofounders Langford and Tom Greenhalgh "couldn't even get jobs as bus
conductors" after the Mekons were dropped from their first record deal in
the early '80s, Langford says. The band has been on the verge of breaking
up numerous times since, but each time has found a reason to keep
creating. "The money has run out many times, but not the ideas," Timms
Langford has had increasing success as a visual artist in recent years,
and has spearheadeded solo projects, the punk-country Waco Brothers, and
the more stylistically diverse Pine Valley Cosmonauts, whose most recent
project ("The Executioner's Last Songs: Vol. 1" on Bloodshot Records)
raised $40,000 for the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project. But even
though getting the Mekons together for periodic albums and tours poses
logistical difficulties, he sees no reason to stop now.
"The main reason we do this is because we're friends, and it's great to
have a reason to get together," Langford says. "But what keeps it going is
that when we do get together what results is intense and powerful for us,
and hopefully a few other people."
What exactly happens when these eight friends get together? A mixture of
hi-falutin' concept (steeped in literature, art and the news of the day)
and guttersnipe punk (marinated in laughter and lager).
"If you saw the Mekons live in 1984, you would need a guide to what these
people were doing on stage," Langford recalls. "Playing the benefits for
the striking miners put us in a situation where we were just a Friday
night band, entertaining people who had just gotten off work and wanted to
have a good time. They don't want obscure art theories or political
ranting. We discovered that it was OK to have a little high-brow as long
you have a lot of low-brow. That's entertainment value. The one thing you
want to avoid is the middle brow, because the whole world is frigging
middle brow at the moment."
Greil Marcus | 9/1/2002 | Interview |
The Mekons are celebrating their 25th anniversary with an album about severed heads. OOOH! (Quarterstick) is about the salutary effect of severed heads—about how, as singer Sally Timms trills in “Bob Hope & Charity” and guitarist Tom Greenhalgh testifies in “Stonehead,” only such a head can sing the true song. Or rise to the example of the fifth-century Welsh king Bran, killed in battle with Ireland, his head brought home by his followers, where it sang for 80 years, “like Bob Hope entertaining the troops.”
In 1977 the Mekons were the first punk band in Leeds, England; after a quarter of a century, after dozens of sometime members have come and gone, they are a core of eight, living in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and London, dedicated to (discovering what they want to say and saying it in the most pleasurable and satisfying way possible, assuming that in the end the two are the same.
As OOOH! begins, with “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem”—in the parlance of the English heretics who make up the phantom chorus of the album, from the 17th-century Ranters to present-day London mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone, from the 16th-century Family of Love to 19th-century British folk revivalist William Morris, the Mekons mean “The New Jerusalem,” capital of a world turned upside down, where every man and woman is God—the Mekons appear not as a band but a tribe. You hear people holding hands as they dance around a fire. Lead voices are surrounded by others, until no voice is more than one shout among many. Creaking guitars, even a flute, sound like machinery found in an abandoned factory and started up again after a hundred years.
There are specific scenes of heretics’ history on OOOH!--members of the Family of Love affirming themselves as drops in God’s ocean, Ranters in their “alehouse chapel”—but there’s no need to notice a word of that to catch the story the Mekons are telling, the body of which is in “Only You and Your Ghost Will Know.” It opens with a flat, lugubrious vocal by Greenhalgh, but even behind his first lines there’s a hint of an all-consuming rhythm trying to break out, and almost immediately it does. Other voices join the leader until he ceases to lead and rejoins the tribe. Then any voice can be heard on its own and as part of the whole—and as part of the past it is summoning. Fiddler Susie Honeyman circles over the sound like a hawk, and the music begins to swirl, like a whirlpool, like Neil Young’s “I’m the Ocean.”
Little guitar notes chime against harsh chords striking down against them, and the little notes sing the song just as the harsh chords carry it. You can’t make the song loud enough, not when a single voice and the tribe hammer back at each other on the chorus, after asking a question that is suddenly as thrilling as it is heartbreaking: Is there anything left in your life worth pursuing? “Only you and your ghost will know,” they answer. What is the ghost? They offer not a hint.
On tour this fall, in some cities the Mekons will mount an art exhibition; read from their new illustrated book of lyrics, Hello Cruel World (Verse Chorus Press), at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon; and, in the Bay Area, Chicago and New York, offer three different shows in each place, performing in different clubs as different incarnations: the Mekons of 1977 (where, for example, guitarist JonLangford, the band’s original drummer, will play drums), 1986, 1992,2002--or whatever stage of their career the night calls up. (“Will you dress in costumes?” I ask Langford. “We always dress in costumes,” he says indignantly.)
One artwork they will not have with them, though, is founding Mekon Ken Lite’s Spinning Head. Last year in Manchester it was part of an extensive Mekons show of heads: heads made by children, pub-sign paintings of the likes of Jackson Pollock, Margaret Thatcher and King Bran, plus such full-color comix paintings as “Oskar Kokoshka’s life-size Alma Mahler Doll”—an inflatable sex doll.
The spinning head was more than four feet high. Voices and songs came out of it. With its dirt-brown features all but smoothed away as if by eons underground, it seemed less made than excavated. One night “juvenile delinquent art critics” (as Langford calls them) broke into the exhibition building and destroyed it.
OOOH! begins and ends with Lite’s head. Every song wants nothing so much as to be sung by it, and heard by it. As the head no longer exists, OOOH! takes its place. The album is the sort of artifact that, decades from now, people will find and wonder what it is, where it came from, what it says, and wonder if anyone who made it is still alive.
Greil Marcus is Interview’s Music Writer at Large. Detailed information on the Mekons’ 25th-anniversary celebration can be found at www.mekons.com.
by Michael Goldberg
Monday, September 9, 2002
The Mekons Are 'Out Of Our Heads'
Still fighting the good fight.
The Mekons began life in 1977 as a punk band in Leeds, England.
They're still a punk band, if you take that word to describe an
attitude and not a sound; if you believe that punk can include a
country ballad and an English folk tune (a vocal approach that might
make you think of The Band, if The Band were from Leeds, England, or
the recordings of Richard and Linda Thompson); if you think that punk
is about subversive ideas and taking chances, not a rigid style.
Greil Marcus describes The Mekons as a "tribe," not a band. And
certainly on their new album, Oooh! (Out of Our Heads), they sound a
hell of a lot more like a tribe or a bunch of longtime friends,
sitting around the living room (campfire?) singing songs together,
than a "band." "I think it's a band of people that don't approach
music in the same way that a lot of musicians do," explains Sally
Timms, one of the group's singers (eight of the current lineup's nine
members sing, and there are three guest vocalists on the album as
well), in a recent Punk Planet interview. "It's more like an ideas
band, weirdly enough. People come in and out with ideas and it's very
conceptual. ... It's a backwards process. It's an idea that you don't
sit down and strum a few chords and then build a song, it comes from
a group of people exchanging ideas about how they feel about the
Apparently, The Mekons don't feel so good about the world. But if
it's going up in flames (and I'd say that based on the songs on this
album, they probably think it is), they're going to amuse themselves
all the same — and for as long as they can. In that same Punk Planet
interview, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jon Langford indicated that
the band could continue for decades to come. "I don't see why I
wouldn't carry on singing with The Mekons when I'm 60 years old," he
The Mekons make a kind of rock music, but it's rock music with all
the influences showing. And it's rock music that can veer into
country ballads with ripping slide guitar lines and soaring fiddle,
or utilize the lessons learned from ska, reggae and dub (just check
out "Dancing in the Head"). You'll hear Appalachian country and Irish
reels, and a lot of music that sounds old, but not in a retro or
nostalgic way. The Mekons work with musical tools that have been with
us for centuries, but use them to make a music that's as alive as you
The band seems to be run as a collective (a tribe!), although it
appears that Langford and singer/guitarist Tom Greenhalgh serve as
the informal leaders. The members are spread out across four cities.
Langford and Timms are based in Chicago; the others are in New York,
San Francisco and London. Timms says the songs are collaborative
efforts, and they sound like it.
I have come to believe that the best songs are all about the sound
and the emotions communicated through the music, including the
vocals. Whether lyrics make literal sense or nonsense, or just
further the emotional terrain of the music, hardly matters. When you
listen to the sad ballad "Hate Is the New Love," it is the mournful
minor-key melody of the fiddle and Timms' vocal that tell the story,
more so even than the lyrics, which seem to describe the hopelessness
of modern life. " 'Cos there's no peace/ On this terrible shore/
Every day is a battle/ How we still love the war."
"Take His Name in Vain" is certainly one of the album's highlights,
with the band using their voices to communicate both camaraderie
and... well, I'm really not sure what else. The group vocals, with
Langford, Timms, Rico Bell, Sarah Corina and others pitching in, have
the feel of a barroom sing-along. You can imagine folks with graying
beards and wrinkled faces, downing another pint, calling for another
round and shouting out the chorus, "Take his name in vain." There has
been some kind of betrayal here — "Old familiar vampires are sucking
our powers," they sing. "Must have heard me/ Take his name in vain."
But beyond that, all we know is that the singers (the song is in the
first person but a number of vocalists take turns singing the opening
verse) have "forgotten more than I care to remember/ Try to tell me
something/ Please, please keep trying."
There's a whole "severed heads" theme running through the album —
from the title ("Out of Our Heads") to such songs as "Dancing in the
Head" and "Stonehead" — but I don't know much about that. Marcus says
the album is "about the salutary effect of severed heads," and
perhaps, if you listen to it, that will make perfect sense to you
Me, I think this severed heads thing is kind of a running joke, a
Mekons in-joke: the album cover depicts a figure bent over a severed
head, which is declaring the album's title, "Oooh!," short for "Out
of Our Heads"; there are references to heads throughout the CD
booklet, such as a newspaper headline ("Beheaded body found in
guerrilla territory") and another image of a severed head
saying "Heads will roll."
All of this pushes beyond the boundaries of so-called "good taste,"
which I think is the real point here. One of the things I believe The
Mekons are addressing in an oblique way is the utter savagery and
barbarism of war (physical, cultural, psychological). This album
arrived three or so weeks short of the anniversary of 9/11; the first
song is titled "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem." War is a reality in
many parts of the globe; there are also other wars going on, right at
home, whereever home might be.
One of those wars is over culture, and what gets a shot on the
airwaves, what gets "heard." The Mekons "Oooh!" is released through
Touch & Go, a relatively small indie label. It will not get the
attention that Springsteen's The Rising or Avril Lavigne's Let Go are
getting. No one is wounded or killed in this war, but it's a war all
the same. That The Mekons are together after 25 years, and have
created an album as powerful and moving as Oooh!, with songs as
simultaneously joyous and profound as "Only You and Your Ghost Will
Know," tells me this is one war we're winning.
The Mekons formed in Leeds in the late '70s almost as a lark, a lefty
art-school answer to punk rock that operated as a loose collective, matching
shambling, chaotic music with pointedly Socialist lyrical themes. The group
struggled early on, but a combination of talent and tenacity ensured a
career no matter how hard the Mekons tried to derail themselves.
Still, who would have imagined that the Mekons would make it to their 25th
anniversary, let alone arrive there with an album as strong as "O.O.O.H.!,"
aka "Out of Our Heads." Featuring the same classic line-up responsible for
the band's remarkable series of roots-oriented rock records of the '80s, the
"O.O.O.H.!" is hardly the celebratory record its title implies. The last
Mekons disc was called "Journey to the End of the Night," but "O.O.O.H.!"
sounds like the group has finally made it there. Packed with eerie dirges
and weary ballads, "O.O.O.H!" even adds gospel to the group's globetrotting
sound, all linked together by the band's four very different vocalists.
Tom Greenhalgh leads the sad "Lone Pilgrim," with Jon Langford, Sally Timms,
and Rico Bell chiming in, and the quartet rotate prominence in the spooky
yet insistent "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem." Timms contributes the haunting
"Hate is the New Love," sung like a protest song from the perspective of
someone who has already lost. "Everyday is a battle," she sighs. "How we
still love the war." Veteran drummer Steve Goulding, multi-instrumentalist
Lu Edmonds, and bassist Sarah Corina help perk up tracks such as "Winter"
and "Bob Hope & Charity," but they hardly lift the album out of the gloom.
"O.O.O.H!" is a particularly serious release from a band that's regularly
demonstrated the power of a sense of humor, but now as elder statesmen of
punk (!) the Mekons have earned the right to be as glum as they want.
Besides, the band's cadre of dedicated followers will no doubt forgive the
dark direction as they file the disc in with their numerous other classics.
If you can keep your band going long enough -- say, 25
years -- your music becomes something of an afterthought.
I say this with all due respect to The Mekons; in their
quarter-century together they've garnered a boatload of critical praise,
amassed a devoted cult of fans and even helped to launch a genre (their Fear
and Whiskey, don't forget, is widely acknowledged as cornerstone of the
alt-country church). They're certainly above reproach, particularly when
compared to long-lived acts like the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett or
Aerosmith, whose fans buy their albums out of a sense of obligation that
borders on mind control. However, any artist with sufficient longevity and a
big enough fan base (however scattered) eventually reaches the point where
releasing a new album is more about satisfying the audience than advancing a
creative agenda. For corporate rock monoliths like Aerosmith, that means
putting out empty retreads like...well, whatever the hell the last Aerosmith
record was called. For The Mekons, it means recording an album that, while
musically rich and eminently enjoyable, is not an all-important,
ultra-influential career turning point, but a stretch of straightway. Oooh!
takes everything The Mekons have achieved 'til now and makes it rock in
truly celebratory style.
Oooh! (it's short for Out Of Our Heads) gets the blood
flowing right away with "Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem", a rousing, militant
concoction of bristling guitars, Susie Honeyman's furious fiddle, Lu
Headmonds' skronking saz (yes, saz) and riotous group vocals. John Langford
sings nominal lead, but the whole band backs him up, and the song's best
moments come when they're all hollering the title phrase, or trading off
lines during the refrain. Crank the volume toward the end so as not to miss
the punchy, Nile Rodgers-y disco rhythm, which perfectly offsets the angry
fiddle and, erm, saz.
After the hallucinogenic, Eastern-flavored "Dancing In the
Head", the album settles into a comfortable groove, lodged halfway between
drunken gospel music and alt-country pop. This leaves room not only for
slurred anthems like "Take His Name In Vain" (a provocative title that, like
several of Oooh!'s songs, foreshadows a jab at Christianity but never
actually delivers it), but for glorious pop songs like the jangly,
exquisitely fatalistic "Only You and Your Ghost Will Know". "Winter" is
quintessential "happy" Mekons, juxtaposing quasi-religious imagery
(references to "red fruit", sinless beings and inner demons) with pagan
debauchery ("In the alehouse chapel / we drank and smoked all naked / love
is fire! / Deep in the winter"); it's the sort of song you'll want get
roaring drunk and then sing along to. Imagine the scene: your arm is slung
over a good friend's shoulders, and you're packed into a crowded, cozy pub
on a chilly November evening, and the world feels small and warm and
wonderful. Fuckin' great.
My only gripe, implied earlier, is a minor one: Oooh!
delivers nothing we haven't come to expect from The Mekons. While it's not a
mindless good-time party album, it's certainly not as grim as their darkest
efforts, either. Rather than dwelling on, or wallowing in, their characters'
inevitable failures, most of these songs seem to be focused on tomorrow.
There's no guarantee that it will be a happy day, but it's clearly a
wide-open future, which is as close to a happy ending as the Mekons appear
willing to deliver.
The Mekons' blue-collar charm is as effective here as
ever -- and there's a strong suggestion that they had as good a time
recording Oooh! as you'll have listening to it. You can hear and feel their
delight in the disc's most powerful songs; "Winter" and "Thee Olde Trip To
Jerusalem", for instance, will give you goosebumps and make you want to
shout along. Indeed, there's something almost primally satisfying about
playing "Thee Olde Trip" as loud as possible -- it's a little too lyrically
vague to be truly anthemic, but it sure as hell will give you the electric
And that's how Oooh! fits into The Mekons' canon. It's not
a pivotal, five-star, genre-spawning watershed-type album -- it's one of
those equally essential three and a half star corkers that delivers a good
time, every time. How many other bands do you know that can cook up
something this good after 25 years?
-- George Zahora
all music guide
What a long, strange trip it's been, indeed. OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads) is the
25th anniversary recording by the ubiquitous Mekons, a band from Leeds that,
in one incarnation or another, has been confounding and delighting both
audiences and critics since the beginning. John Langford, the band's
unofficial frontman since the beginning, has cajoled, bribed, pleaded with,
and threatened most of the band's original members - Tom Greenhalgh, Sally
Tims, Rico Bell, Sarah Corina, Steve Goulding, Lu Headmonds, Susie Honeyman,
Ken Lite - and a few guests from Chicago (where he resides) in Edith Frost,
Kelly Hogan, and producer Ken Sluiter - to churn out the finest Mekons album
since Rock & Roll, if not Fear and Whiskey. While the mix of country and
rock tunes will be familiar to fans, the intensity will not. This is a
Mekons recording that pulls out all the stops and brings their deeply rooted
psychobilly country base to the fore while engaging their punk roots with
abandon (they could show the Vines and the Hives more than a few new
tricks) - check out the first two tracks, "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem" and
"Dancing in the Head." When slipping over into deeper country waters, as
they do on "Hate in the New Love" and "The Way Through the Fire," as well as
"Take His Name in Vain" (with a stunning chanted group chorus) and "Lone
Pilgrim" (with an amazing vocal by Timms), the band indulge a certain
British electric folk sensibility as well that wouldn't be out of place on
an old Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention recording. In other words, these
old dogs have plenty of life left in them as a band. If Langford could keep
this version of the band o together for some time, they might actually reach
a few thousand more souls on their way into rock & roll history - though
given this fine disc, who can say how far into the future that might be? A
great place to start, a fine place to continue if you've been on the Mekons
road for a bit, and if you are already a fan, this is essential.
Mon, Sep 16. The Horseshoe, 370 Queen W. $15 from Ticketmaster, Rotate
This, Soundscapes, Horseshoe.
BY MICHAEL BARCLAY
On 1989's The Mekons Rock'n'Roll album, the band sang, "I forgot to forget
to remember." Now celebrating their 25th year with a new album, OOOH! (Touch
and Go), the veteran British band are singing, "I've forgotten more than I
care to remember."
When asked what significance that latter line has for him, Mekons
guitarist/vocalist and founding member Jon Langford says, "I think of
[Mekons vocalist] Sally Timms. She can't remember most of the 1980s. She has
a great memory for telephone numbers, but no memory for any details of her
life: where she lived, where she went or who with." So she won't be writing
the Mekons biography? "She'd be the perfect person to write it," Langford
counters. "Lots of fantasy and myth."
While other British punk bands were singing about anarchy and white riots in
1977, The Mekons debuted with a single entitled "Never Been in a Riot" and
they've been contrarians ever since. Take, for example, their first American
tour in 1986, when Langford and co-founder Tom Greenhalgh debuted a new
lineup playing songs from the country-influenced Fear and Whiskey (reissued
this year on Touch and Go).
"I remember there was a certain polarization in the audience," Langford
recalls. "What was thought of as The Mekons sound, we weren't really doing
anymore. It was more volatile than things are these days. There was a lot of
screaming and abuse from the audience, and even more from the band back at
them. Things got more genteel from there. But we're going to change that on
this tour by making a point of insulting the audience. We'll spit on them
and scream things like, 'Kick Jimmy Carter out of the White House!' 'Smash
the system!' Stuff like that."
Toronto audiences haven't seen The Mekons since, well, since Langford can
remember. Because this tour is celebrating their silver anniversary, he
promises the set list will "span the decades" -- though his syllabic
pronunciation on "decades" places the emphasis on "decay," which would suit
Langford's sense of humour. "We're playing songs from the first single right
up to the latest album. Having said that, we don't overburden ourselves with
trying to play it correctly."
OOOH! is another return to form after the many experiments of the '90s ended
with 2000's Journey to the End of the Night. At the time, Sally Timms joked
that she really wanted the band to make a "good" album for a change.
"Sometimes we feel like that, making something tighter as opposed to flying
off in all directions. This time we decided to make a great album," Langford
states, with only a hint of self-importance. "These songs are definitely up
there with the best of The Mekons output, I'd say. Sometimes our stuff is
hard work for people, and that's fine. Some people are rigorous and like to
be put through some hoops, but this is a pretty listenable album."
OOOH! is an acronym for Out of Our Heads, the name of a British art project
the band was involved with last year. "A lot of the song ideas came about as
a response to that," says Langford. "The art show was about heads: shrunken
heads, severed heads, losing your head. A lot of ancient myths talk about
the head that keeps singing after it's been chopped off. It's a funny
notion, and sometimes I think The Mekons are like that. We've been
decapitated numerous times. It's a nice idea about the immortality of song."
Most of The Mekons are also visual artists, and during our conversation they
can be heard hammering while setting up an art show at a tour stop in San
Francisco. One of them lives there, one in New York, three in Chicago, three
in London, and one in their hometown of Leeds. Langford has lived in Chicago
for 10 years now, and says the indie mecca is a perfect home for his
"geographically challenged" band, who have always prioritized art over
commerce. "It's definitely been a good town for us; it was from the first
time we were there," he says. "There's a lot of things about Chicago that
fit into the way The Mekons like to work."
The mother country is another story. "We make a bit of an effort to play in
England every time we put out a record. The last time we went it was great,
so I can't knock it, but over the years it hasn't been much fun playing in
England. It's definitely improved lately. I think a lot of people in England
have decided we're Americans now, so suddenly we're cool."
Although there have been minor changes, The Mekons have had a fairly
consistent lineup since 1985. The band is a part-time enterprise: most of
The Mekons have solo projects, and Langford has five projects on the go at
any given time, including an upcoming collaboration with The Sadies.
While no one's leaving the band anytime soon, Langford admits, "It'd be nice
if we had some young blood. I'm training my son right now to take over for
me. He's five, so I have a while to go. I'd like it if we could replace the
entire Mekons over the years. I think it's time I moved up to coaching."
Pop Culture Gadabout
The Mekons' OOOH
In the midst of the political umbrage being aimed at Steve Earle's upcoming
Jerusalem disc, I've been getting my poli-outrage fix from another reliable
source, the Mekons.
The band of Brit post-punkers has been producing smart, passionate prog
statements in music for decades now. OOOH (Quarterstick Records) is the
latest of the group's sporadic "real releases" (as opposed to a collection
of b-sides and demos - of which there are many in the Mekons' catalog). It's
a darn good 'un, too. Pissed-off and powerless, marginalized by events that
have turned "hate into the new love," all that Waco brother Jon Langford &
peers can do is sing about their understandable despair.
Over the years the band has moved from its raucous punk roots into a
rough-hewn country/folk mode that owes as much to Beggar's Banquet Rolling
Stones as it does Sandinista-era Clash. The newest Mekons may lack the
fired-up sound of the group's big label release, Rock 'N' Roll or Retreat
from Memphis, but it catches a piece of this current moment better than just
about anything else I've been listening to lately:
'Cos there's no peace
On this terrible shore
Everyday is a battle
How we still love the war.
Only the Mekons would craft a gospelly song that strives to incite the
audience to "take His name in vain" - not to be outrageous in the mode of
Johnny Rotten bragging he's an anti-Christ, but just because it's one of the
few things left to say. "Our dissent," Langford later moans over Steve
Goulding's diddley-ing drums, "throw another log on the fire." The Mekons
are unafraid to stare into the conflagration, acknowledging their fear and
As a band, the presentday group favors guit/fiddle statements (the latter
occasionally reminiscent of John Cale), periodic spoken word experiments and
more traditional old-fashioned country (album closer "Stonehead" opens with
a weird acappella chant then turns into a country waltz). Many of the
stand-out tracks are either group singalongs ("Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem")
or solos by Langford or the unvarnishedly melodic Sally Timms.
"It's not over 'til I say so," Langford sings in the wonderfully titled "Bob
Hope and Charity," but this isolated moment of assertiveness is ambiguous at
best. OOOH (the title is both an acronym for "Out of Our Heads" and an
evocation of the harmonies that are all over this disc) is the best release
to come from this scrappy unit in years. But I have a sneaking suspicion
that the only audience that'll care about this fact is the cadre of fans
who've kept the group viable in cultland. Music this grown-up and dissipated
isn't just out of the band's big giant head, it's also out of step w./
today's commercial & political clime.