The Mekons, Grizzled Treasures That They Are, Come Through For The Umpteenth Time

Ancient and Modern is the perfect title for a new album by the Mekons, because of course they are both.  Thirty-three years after we heard “Where Were You” for the first time, nearly dropping both pint and jaw, the Meeks have released an album filled with modernistic ensemble charms, as the redoubtable Jon Langford, youthful vixen Sally Timms, and the publican crooner Tom Greenhalgh once more destroy their safe and happy lives in the name of rock’n’roll.  It is, for them, a pretty straightforward affair, as the whole tribe shows up in force — there’s Rico on the accordion, and surely that’s Susie on the fiddle — to update Leeds punk with Chicago grit, modulated by folky purrings from a green and pleasant land.

Over the years — the decades — the Mekons have turned out some records that produced smiles if not long-lasting joy.  When on form, though, they’ve produced artifacts that future rockologists will dig up and behold with wonder, thence to try answering the riddle of why they weren’t the hugest band around.  And should one of those future rockologists seek out Tulip Frenzy for guidance, let us be clear where we stand: we believe that the Mekons, from the moment in 1978 they entered a studio to record “Never Been In A Riot” without any previous experience playing their instruments, to this day, when  a merry band of first-rate singers and musicians can still make great music, live and in the studio, the Mekons have produced more great rock’n’roll music than any of their contemporaries, which include the Clash, and Gang of Four, and the Buzzcocks, and whatnot.  (More is too easy, as they’re the only one of those bands never to have broken up in more than 30 years of playing together – Ed.)  And not just more, but in many ways better albums than their contemporaries.  For perhaps other than London Calling, has any of their peers produced an album as fine as Rock n’ Roll?  We think not.  (Ok, ok, you made your point – Ed.)

Ancient and Modern will not likely be played as long, or as often, as we play those albums produced during the Mekons’ Golden Age (from roughly the mid-80s to the mid-90s; from The Edge Of The World until the under-appreciated Retreat From Memphis.)  At the pinnacle — from So Good It Hurts, through Rock n’Roll and I (Heart) The Mekons — the Mekons could at once make you remember they were contemporaries of the Clash, and admire them all the more for never giving up.  Later, they posted some remarkably great late-innings performances, in particular Journey To The End Of The Night.  Ancient and Modern, both as a collection of songs and as a performance, doesn’t reach those heights, but come on, the mere fact they still grace us with their music is reason to wake up in the morning.

Over the years, the key indicators for a Mekons album have been: are Langford’s rockers memorable, did Sally Timms get some melody to which she could apply her sultry vocals, and is Tom Greenhalgh noodling, or singing a song as perfect as “Heaven and Back.”  “Space In Your Face,” “Honey Bear,” “The Devil At Rest,” and “Warm Summer Sun” are reminders of how much we owe to Ancient Civilization, and just how much life there still is in those old bones.

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