Mekons: Overall Reviews

From: Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide: The 80's, New York, Pantheon Books

The Mekons: The Mekons (Red Rhino import '80).

Must be a confusing time in the old country, what with Eurodisco coming back postpunk and the no-wave imperative advancing on no future. Where the Gang of Four respond by constructing a herky-jerk funk from their own inexpertise, their Leeds comrades - who were on that one last year already - yoke an amateur anarchism less obstreperous than Wire's or the Fall's to vaguely traditional songs almost domestic in their attention to modest detail. They also rewrite "Lipstick on Your Collar" I think it is. You figure it out. B

Mekons: The Mekons Story (CNT import '82).

Over sixty minutes of previously unreleased tunes or worktapes have been crammed onto twelve inches of vinyl by this since disbanded band or collective, so play it loud or it'll sound like a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear. Which is actually the idea. As rock epater les bourgeois goes, it's humane, imaginative - none of the malignant contempt of Metal Machine Music ar Flowers of Romance. A few of the tracks forge form from the refusal of technique, with the thirty-four-second hotel-room punk of "Letter's in the Post" and Mark White's mad-busker voice-and-footstomp revery "The Building" more convincing candidates than any of the rough postpunk or folk-rock or Anglodisco numbers. But unless you're heavily into the byways of anarchist negation, most of it demands more consideration than there's any reason to expect from the ordinary harassed citizen, social worker, journalist, or record executive. B-

Mekons: Fear and Whiskey (Sin import '85).

Just when I never wanted to hear a roots-rock record again, along come these British anarchists with a sort of concept album sort of about life during wartime. The Americans are ciearing a sector down south, but that doesn't stop the good guys from playing their anarchic country-rock and doing their anarchic Morris stomp and fucking up their anarchic love lives and drinking to keep from shitting their pants and rolling down a highway that may finally be lost for real. Yes, amateurism is still a sentimental fallacy, and if you want to know why it's such a powerful one, listen up. Original grade: A. A+

Mekons: Crime and Punishment (Sin import EP '86).

Four stories that don't quite make sense about waking up with your friend's wife, going to hospital, failing, drinking. Actually the drinkillg one, a Merle Haggard song, makes sense on its own terms, but in the Mekons' world nothing makes sense, which in the least pessimistic construction is because all these songs are about dnnking one way or another. In fact, all seem wntten from a permanent hangover. But it's fair to say that they've been driven to drink - by life, which is hard and then you die. Original grade: B plus. A-

Mekons: The Edge of the World (Sin import '80).

If the continuing existence of their music doesn't place these anti Amencan country-rockers squarely among the undefeated for you, the continuing eloquence of their Iyrics ought to - whether it's Sally Timms trying to talk to the drunk she's stuck with or Jon Langford downing cat food because he deesn't feel human tonight, they haven't given up on saying their piece. Thing is, the listener has to concentrate to be sure, which despite the Iyric sheet isn't so easy this time. That's the problem with making fatigue your great theme - it sounds tired awfully fast. A-

Mekons: Slightly South of the Border (Sin import EP '86).

Marking time and maybe taking a small, honorable profit in the bargain, they heat up the remixed title tune to accompany (surprise) a Gram Parsons cover and two originals: a typically realistic, typically depressive response to the miners' stnke, and a typically commonplace, typically gnm letter from a woman who shouid have blown the whistleon her dad. B +

The Mekons: Honky Tonkin' (Twin/Tone '87).

Nobody would take them for amateurs or anarchists on this evidence. Just a catchy, rocking Brit country band with more enthusiasm than skill in the vocal department and Iyrics-included that don't seem to have much to do with honky-tonks - that tend overmuch to the metaphysical, metaphoncal, and obscure for all their show of specificity. I await the next phase. B+

Mekons: New York (ROIR cassette '87).

Finally given their megashot at us '-American vermin" by the giant Twin/Tone conglomerate, they labored harder than the huddled masses they champion and flubbed it like the born-to-losers they are. So this offhand hour of U.S. Iive from their self-employed days is doubly welcome. Interspersed with tour-bus patter, soused ad libs, and other memorabilia, its selected honky-tonk retatters the reputation of a band that's made something friendly of the slop aesthetic without being jerks or airheads about it. Dim ROIR sound adds to the aura by subtracting from same. A-

Mekons: So Good It Hurts (Twin/Tone '88).

Reports that they've "gone reggae are grossly exaggerated and no big deal - the Bellamy Brothers beat them to that crossover by a country mile, and the skank that kicks things off is as lovable as anything they've ever done (bumbling semipros they may be, but their drummer used to work for the Rumour). If only they were hip enough to cover "Old Hippie" (that's a Bellamys song, kids), all would be well. As it is they cover (some would claim redefine) "Heart of Stone" and write bookish Iyrics I don't understand even when l've read the authors in question. B+

The Mekons: The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll (A&M '89).

If you love rock and roll (which is possible even if you slum the spelling with apostrophes), but don't think Rock and Roll (much less Rock 'n' Roll) a propitious title hook right now, you could love this album, which takes their love-hate relationship with Amenca to the bank. Musically, it's rock and roll despite the fiddles sawing louder than ever, almost as Clashlike as the promo claims, with Steve Goulding bashing away louder than ever too. Lyrically, in great song after great song, rock and roll is devil's-breath perfume, capitalism's "favourite boy child," a commodity like sex, a log to throw on the fire, a "shining path back to reconquer Americay." Are they implicated? Of course. Do they love it? Yes and no. A

Mekons: Original Sin (Twin/Tone CD '89).

Fear and Whiskey was a triumph in search of a war, and even their fans lost the two EPs that followed in the shuffle. Minus a Merle Haggard cover and plus two other cuts, one of which stinks just in case you mistook them for great artists, all this product comes together on this remastered repackage, and it coheres wonderfully - the EPs resonate off an album that doesn't leave you hungering for something completely different when its thirty-five minutes are through. If you're among the millions who missed Fear Und Whiskey, this is a golden opportunity. These guys know how to make the most of failure. That's the kind of anarchist revolutionaries I like. A

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