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The Mekons - Punk Rock

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Artist: The Mekons

Album: Punk Rock

Label: Quarterstick

Review date: Jan. 29, 2004

Long-standing inhabitants of Britains musical margins, Mekons have spent the last quarter-century confounding expectations, musically, commercially, and otherwise. This has earned them a small but devoted fanbase, but it has also played a large part in maintaining their "cult" status, forever cited by other bands as influences despite very small sales. Formed in the jobless industrial wasteland that was late-’70s middle England, Mekons ignited a fair amount of excitement in their early years with their particularly Northern, literate, working-class take on punk rock. The band quickly moved on to explore different sounds, as did the music culture at large. As a result, Mekons have spent the rest of their career trying out almost any musical direction you can imagine, as well as enduring countless lineup changes, members living in different cities, and a host of record companies who often had little or no idea what to do with the band.

But they never went away. Sally Timms has spent quite a bit of time in Chicago, soaking up American sounds and releasing several excellent country albums. Tom Greenhalgh and Andrew Corrigan have appeared in too many collaborations to name, and the band has played with everyone from the Sex Pistols to Yo La Tengo. In a typically unexpected move, the band recently decided to organize a "25th Anniversary" world tour, stopping in New York, Amsterdam, Chicago, and hometown Leeds, among others. All the original members regrouped for these shows, and for the occasion, decided to re-record some of their early material. Although the basic punk attack hasn’t changed, age and time have altered the feel and the resonance of the songs, not only because the band is more "mature" but because they have an entirely different energy.

Opener "Teeth" is perhaps the fullest result of this approach, fusing harsh guitars to a feedback-strewn violin line while Greenhalgh spits polemic into the mic. The band is joyfully noisy and light on its feet, energized by a second crack at these old tunes, some of which were recorded live to jubilant fans. The vocals on most of the tracks belong to Greenhalgh and Timms, swinging between the former’s aggressive, barking tunes and the latter’s cracked country interpretations. More than anyone on the album, Timms’ work reflects the eclectic sources of inspiration among the band. Shamelessly sexy, bizarre, and often obliquely political, her songs are the band’s beating heart.

Mekons formed during a time of restless experimentation, when innovation briefly threatened to become the norm, and this philosophy has defined their work during the last quarter century. Punk Rock reflects this, both in the still-potent attack of the songs and the fresh approach plied by Mekons in the new recordings. Songs like "32 Weeks" and "Work All Week" come across now as dead-on critiques of the encroaching poison of consumerism and its work-yourself-to-death consequences. Thankfully, Mekons’ politics have always been delivered with a healthy dose of self-mockery and irony, which not only lightens the mood but complicates the meaning of the songs. "Work All Week,” after all, functions as both a capitalist criticism and a heartfelt lovesong, with its reggae-inflected beat and its sunny demeanor. The nuance of this contradiction is much more relaxed here than in the original version, which it easily one-ups.

Coming back to these songs is a bit like one of those movies where someone in their thirties pretends to be a high school student, revisiting their old life and attempting to alter their mistakes. Mekons get to step into their younger shoes with a greater sense of perspective, more experience, and better equipment.

Bands like Liquid Liquid, Gang of Four, and Wire are currently being namechecked by people who were in diapers when those bands’ first records came out. Well-distributed reissues and quality new material have put these groups back on the map, opening up new possibilities for musicians whose records languished in used bins only a few years ago. It might simply represent a desperate search for sounds that haven’t been completely exhausted; it might also suggest that some of the best music of the last 20 years is still to be discovered by the masses. Mekons are the equal of any post-punk band on both sides of the Atlantic, and they are still very serious about proving it.

By Jason Dungan

Other Reviews of The Mekons

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Honky Tonkin'


Ancient & Modern

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