Archive for The Mekons

The Mekons’ Miracle in the Desert

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Thought exercise: try imagining the Rolling Stones, 42 years after their founding, releasing the strongest record of their career — a record that at once harkens to their 1964 debut but also their strongest work from their Golden Age. By this math, the record would have to come out in… 2004. Lord, forgive us as we write on the very day that Mick Jagger has announced he’s to have heart surgery, but is it in the realm of possibility that the Stones’ could, in 2004, have put out a record on a par with Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street?

We think you know the answer. Yet on Deserted, by our count the Mekons’ 20th album since their formation in 1977, this dearest of bands haven’t just touched upon their former glory. They have produced the greatest album of a long, cursed and hilarious career.

There is a technical term for this: a fucking miracle.

Thirty years ago, the Mekons released Rock and Roll, which always seemed likely to be their high-water mark, artistically. I (Heart) the Mekons (from ’91) may have had as many great songs, but the production was so harsh that to this day, we put gauze and vaseline on our earbuds before playing it. The run of albums that stretched from Me (’98) to Journey to the End of the Night (’00) to OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) (2002) had between them the greatest batch of Mekons’ songs and recorded performances, but boil all three recs down to what’s essential and you have a single Long Player.

From wild start to beautiful finish, though, Deserted has not a single weak moment. It is the apogee of the recorded output of this grizzled, sprawling spawn of the punk-era. It fill us with hope and gratitude. It is adding years to our life. It revives our faith in the art form.

Singers Jon Langford and Sally Timms don’t fully commit to their vocal chores the way the warble-voiced Tom Greenhalgh does, but make no mistake, this is the Mekons in the finest of fettles, fit as an old bass fiddle. Sequestered in Joshua Tree to produce an album, they chose to write songs with desert imagery, the usual nod to the lost “glory” of the British Empire, a recognizable dissonant squall, and some of the prettiest songs ev-er. From the start, it’s been hard to get the Meeks to take things seriously — I remember interviewing them on New Year’s Eve 1980 and could barely get a useable quote — even though, underneath it all, you don’t keep a venture like this going for 40+ years without a decided commitment. On Deserted, the Mekons mask their ambition inside the usual antics, but this greatest of punk-era bashers have produced an artful delight we plan on listening to for just as long as our batteries last.

Speaking Of Bands And 40th Anniversaries, The Mekons Present “Existentialism” As A Book And CD

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on September 11, 2016 by johnbuckley100


Now this is getting ridiculous.  Fresh upon the release of the Fleshtones’ sublime The Band Drinks For Freeand hot on the heels of Television’s amazing performance last week at DC’s 930 Club, we opened up our mailbox to find Existentialism, a 95-page booklet with a 12-song CD tucked in, newly released by the Mekons.  What do these three bands have in common?  Perhaps only this: each was formed during the final year of President Gerald Ford’s hapless regency.

When last we vectored in on our old friends, the Meeks were releasing the distilled ferment from their sojourn to the Isle of Jura, off the Scottish Coast.  Jura was something of a gimmick and something of a miracle: a subset of Mekons, along with the formidable Robbie Foulks, did a brief tour of Scotland and took to an island sanctuary to record an album that was fun, but ultimately light, listenable if ultimately inessential.

It wasn’t Rock N’ Roll, nor of the quality of the 1990s masterpieces, OOOH! (out of our heads) and Journey To The End Of The Night, but it was a reminder of the Mekons’ greatness, of the power of Jon Langford and Sally Timms singing together, even if we missed Steve Goulding’s drums and Tom Greenhalgh’s sad sack warbling.  But just as that album was a clever one-off, like what would happen if the characters in a Shirley Jackson novel picked up pots and pans to play music to ward off the ghosts of a Scooby Doo haunted house, now comes Existentialism, itself a one-off, but of a more interesting, substantial nature.

Years ago, co-40th birthday boys, the aforementioned Fleshtones, recorded a live album and had it released on cassette mere hours later.  Existentialism took longer to release, but not to record, as it all came together one summer ago on a theater stage in Brooklyn, the full band — yep, Grenhalgh and Goulding, though apparently not Rico Bell — performing, like a bluegrass band, before a crowd and a single microphone.  And it works!

If e’re you forget that the Mekons can get a groove on, it’s disproved by the opener, “Flowers of Evil, Part 2.”  Not wobbling, though a certain amount of warbling ensues, and the band is in fine form throughout.  By the time we hear Langford singing about a familiar topic (“O Money”), there is only one band on earth that could have existed to produce this — just as only one band would have recorded a commentary on Brexit entitled “Fear and Beer.”  “1848 Now!” may be their best song since 2011’s “Space In Your Face.”  As a whole, Existentialism takes a straight line back to the Mekons’ punk rock origins, their being thrown in a studio by Andrew Last and Fast Records just to see what came out — metaphorically conveyed by the cover photo of their first rec, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, which delightfully depicts a monkey not quite get that line of Shakespeare typed.

But in a season when Acura has wondrously called up the Mekons’ 1978 single “Where Were You” in a commercial, Existentialism is a reminder that the Meeks are alive and well, the rag tag army able to reconvene episodically.  Like an old couple that have to role play to get the juices flowing, they may need a concept to do so — hey, let’s go to an island and lock ourselves in a makeshift studio! hey, let’s play an album of cool new songs live before an audience, record it and be done with it! — but in the end, man, is it worth it.

Hey Hey, We’re The Mekons

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 29, 2015 by johnbuckley100

bs225_juracover_0When a scaled-down version of the Mekons toured Scotland last year, they Shanghaied pal Robbie Fulks to fill in for the missing Tom Greenhalgh.  No more perfect companion could have been stuffed into the hold, as Fulks shares the band’s cockeyed view of life and is himself a one-man distillation of what the Meeks have tried to do since about 1985 — fuse roots rock and country with a punk-rock ethos and a madcap sense of humor.

Along the way, the Mini Mekons, as they were calling themselves, took to the island of Jura, where sheep and casks of whiskey outnumbered humans, to record a (mostly) acoustic album, their 319th by my count.  It is, as might be expected, a really wonderful collaboration.

Spiritual kin to 2007’s Natural, which if we recall correctly, also saw the Mekons gather the gang from their hideouts in Chicago and various dives to record a (mostly) acoustic album in the British countryside, Jura features the familiar voices of Jon Langford and Sally Timms, with Rico Bell and Fulks each taking turns before the mikes.  With the exception of “Space In Your Face” from 2011’s Ancient And Modern, this is the best music the Meeks have released since 2002’s OOOH (out of our heads) – as fun a collection of sea chanties and folk charmers as is imaginable in the current sorry epoch.

The highlight for us on Jura is Robbie Fulks singing Tom Greenhalgh’s parts on the revived “Beaten And Broken,” a song first played by the Mekons during their mid-’80s Fear And Whiskey period, when they single-handedly created alt-country, a genre we take for granted today as having always existed.

Oh sure, maybe it started earlier with, say, The Basement Tapes.  Or Hank Williams.  Or the house band in the Gem Saloon in Deadwood. But just as the Mekons’ first album, The Quality of Mercy Is Strnen, had a jacket showing a monkey just miss being able to type a single line of Shakespeare, the band has always toyed with the concept of what would happen if 100 untrained Brits picked up electric guitars (to quote from the first piece we ever wrote about them, in 1981 in the Soho News.). When the band solidified in 1986 with the lineup more and somewhat less represented here, a buncha leftists from Leeds had paradoxically become the keepers of a peculiar flame — musical remnants of both American and British traditionalism.  And on the island of Jura, with acoustic instruments, they still managed to bash around as joyously, weirdly, and beautifully as they did on their legendary live 1987 ROIR cassette Mekons…New York.

Three decades hence and then some, we now know the Mekons have become as formidable and long-lasting a force as their contemporaries The Fleshtones, and on Jura, they are purveyors of some of the most beautiful modern folks songs to be found on record this year.

“V For Vaselines” Is All We Really Want To Listen To

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 12, 2014 by johnbuckley100

There’s a delightful perversity to the story of The Vaselines.  The Glaswegian band released their first album, Dum Dum, in 1989 — and promptly broke up.  They got one of those career boosts a band can only dream of: Kurt Cobain listed Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee as his favorite songwriters, and proved it on MTV Unplugged in New York, when Nirvana covered “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam,” not to mention a killer version of “Molly’s Lips” on Incesticide.  And yet by that time, there was no band to cash in on the plug.  The story seemingly ended with one album, two singles, and a famous missed chance.

Not for another 21 years did The Vaselines put out Sex With An X, the follow-up to the lauded Dum Dum, and what a follow-up it was.  We were, alas, a little slow on the pick-up and had to list in 2011 as one of our previous-year’s regrets the fact that it hadn’t made the Tulip Frenzy 2010 Top Ten List (c).  Since then, Sex With An X has been a regular presence in our earbuds, and we play it anytime we want to have our mood improved by gorgeously melodic and often howlingly funny songs.  To say that The Vaselines only delivered on their promise after a generation’s absence just ads to the perversity of their story.

And now comes V For Vaselines, the tightest, likely the most tuneful album of punk rock since Rocket To Russia, an album that if listened to on the Delta Shuttle (true story) provokes such aisle seat joy that cross aisle neighbors stare before you realize you are snapping your fingers and possibly singing along. Eugene and Frances have never sung better, the propulsive drumming is more infectious than Ebola, and the whole album swings.  We wake in the middle of the night with “Crazy Lady” being powered through the Marshall amps inside our mind, and when we say that this song — actually, the whole album — reminds us of I (Heart) The Mekons, we of course are offering the highest praise. “Earth Is Speeding” is a reminder of what could have happened if Roxy Music, in 1977, had hopped on the punk rock bandwagon.  Lovers once upon a time, adult collaborators these days, Kelly and McKee have literally never sounded better than they do on “Number One Crush,” with its great lyrical premise of tongue-tied love (“Being with you/Kills my IQ).

The mythos of rock’n’roll is that a band puts everything into its first record, and either grows or dies from there.  There is no precedent for a one-album wonder coming back from obscurity 21 years after the first record, and then four years later puts out a masterpiece.  But that’s what The Vaselines have done, and its not too late for you to come along on a greasy, glorious ride.

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

Posted in Music with tags , on October 1, 2011 by johnbuckley100

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.

The Vaselines’ Smooth Return on “Sex With An X”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on October 7, 2010 by johnbuckley100

It’s as impossible to resist the The Vaselines’ first album in twenty years as it is to resist their story.  Here’s the pitch: in 1990 1989, the Glaswegian duo produce an excellent and tuneful debut album only to break up virtually the same week.  They then get their footnote in rock history when (on the MTV Unplugged album) they’re promoted by Kurt Cobain as his favorite songwriters, leading to posthumous sales (for the band) and a posthumous honorific to Kurt as a very talented A&R man.  Years go by, and in 2008, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee reunite for the SubPop 20th.  Next thing we know, it’s 2010 and they release an album so charming, such a tasteful delight, that we find ourselves celebrating and at the same time a la recherche du temps perdu.

Sex With An X picks up where they started… contemporaries of the Go Betweens, but always with just enough of a hard edge and a default punk rock beat to block accusations of being fey.  Neither has a great voice, though they sing well together.  Jon Langford and Sally Timms come to mind, and surely the Mekons are musical confederates, even as we also think of mid-Seventies Lou Reed as an avatar.  In fact, while the Jesus and Mary Chain preceded them in Glasgow by a few years, it’s easy to imagine Eugene and Frances standing with a pint as those other Reeds set the bar on fire.

When Enter The Vaselines came out earlier this year — SubPop’s bundle of their early EPs as well as the complete DumDum album —  those of us who’d sort of sniffed at them a generation ago came to find there was gritty rockin’ substance in that soft, oleaginous goo.  Jesus may have wanted them for a sunbeam, but SupPop wanted them for their kick.  Kurt was right about them, though if you put a gun to my head — bad juxtaposition in this sentence, I know — I probably prefer Nirvana’s versions of their songs. Though they seem completely unimpressed with their own mythology, they make a statement on Sex With An X, as if it’s time the world got a sense of who they really are, and time they showed us.

“Hey, we got nothing to say, but we’re saying it anyway,” is as honest a line from a comeback album as ever there was.  It may be the only thing in Sex With An X that doesn’t ring true.

Jon Langford’s “Old Devils”

Posted in Music with tags , , on August 26, 2010 by johnbuckley100

It’s been pretty quiet ’round the parlor since the Mekons passed through on their 30th Anniversary tour a few years back… nothing from the Meeks proper, and where are Sally and Rico and all the rest with their solo albums?  Even Jon Langford, the closest thing to a workaholic among the Meeks, seemed to have left the Waco Brothers out on the byways.  So listening to Old Devils is like having an old friend drop by unexpectedly.

Under the aegis of Jon Langford and Skull Orchard, the music is closer to Langford’s ’98 solo album, Skull Orchard, and to the Wacos than to comic, cosmic Mekons.  Too bad, but still, Langford remains a rock’n’roll treasure who while Chicago based, is still Welsh enough to appreciate Tom Jones; a first-gen British punk who can still crack a whip.  Old Devils is tight, fun, and tuneful. Glad to have this old devil aboard.

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