Monday, February 11, 2019

Mekons (1990)

Spin, 1990
(possibly unpublished, really cannot remember!)

by Simon Reynolds

"We're not a folk band or a C&W band", insists Tom Greenhalgh of The Mekons. "We hated getting shoved in the roots music category. So we called the last album 'Rock'N'Roll' to clear up the misconception."

Another reason, says guitarist Jon Langford, was that they wanted to reclaim the term from the rock aristocracy installed by Live Aid's public spectacle of philanthropy. "After Live Aid, it seemed like 'rock'n'roll' had much broader connotations than Elvis' quiff. Rock'n'roll started with a pelvic gyration, and ended up capitalism's bastard son."

"We wanted to talk about whether it's possible to carry on writing songs and playing guitars in these conditions," continues Greenhalgh. "And the answer is that it's almost impossible. But you have to try. Our original idea was to call the album "The Music Industry", with have songs titled "The Publisher", "The Distributor", "The Agent", "The Journalist". We wanted it to be like a Godard film: a horrible, brutal, boring deconstruction, with lots of statistics and naming of names."

The Mekons have been 'deconstructing' rock'n'roll for over 12 years now, during which time they've endured ordeals at the hands of record companies, but enjoyed the esteem of a posse of bigwig US critics. Lester Bangs once dubbed them "the most revolutionary band in the world", while Greil Marcus has celebrated them for following the most interesting trajectory out of the wreckage of punk's failed revolution. 

During the Eighties, The Mekons found - in the fatigue and fatalism of C&W and folk - a brilliant metaphor for the blighted dreams of the post-punk aftermath. The bleak, fractured lyrics of their songs described the predicament of a defeated generation, whose lives had disintegrated into a tangle of loose ends and aborted possibilities.

Despite their cheerless subject matter, The Mekons are one of the most rousing live experiences around. And their most recent release, the "F.U.N. 90" EP, actually saw them venturing into dance terrain. "Having A Party" (a cover of Kevin Coyne's blistering kiss-off to the music biz) even borrows the same syncopated, 'Funky Drummer' backbeat that has motored the UK's current indie/dance crossover explosion.

"We're not taking the piss out of the post-Manchester thing," says Greenhalgh. "It's more the case the indie/dance sound is the climate and it's kind of irresistible."

Although they insist that they're not party poopers, the lyrics of "Having A Party" and other songs on the EP do undercut and expose the vacuous positivism of the post-Manchester rave. 

Greenhalgh confirms that The Mekons project is one of negation. "Adorno said that making any affirmative gestures in the post-holocaust era, only affirms that culture. To pretend otherwise is to live in a fantasy land. And that's what most rock'n'roll is. If you are involved in rock you've got to be as dissonant as possible."

The most experimental track on the EP, "One Horse Town" is an eerie, ambient dancescape, featuring a sample of Lester Bangs. 

"We met him in New York in 1981," remembers Langford. "He liked our attitude, and invited us round to his East Village apartment. When we got there, he made me go out and get a nasal spray, which he promptly smashed with a toffee hammer and ate the contents, because it gives a kind of speed buzz. We got on really well, and played some songs together. So when we were recording "One Horse Town" we sampled his voice, as a kind of tribute. That's him going "burn the stars and stripes"."

 From punk, through "C&W noir", to their current forays into "bleak house", The Mekons make de(con)struction fun.

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