You, me, the music, and me.

Friday, March 03, 2006

MEKONS "The Mekons Rock n' Roll"

Blast First BFFP 40 (1989)

The Mekons are a collective of socialist musicians hailing from Leeds, England. I say "collective" because that seems like a more fitting word to describe their ever-changing ensemble than "band". One of the first punk-rock groups who never achieved the household notoreity of the Sex Pistols or the Clash (but who outlasted them both combined), they shifted toward a "cowpunk" sound in the mid-eighties before being signed to A&M Records in the U.S. Perhaps stemming from possible record company pressure to make an album with a more "rock" sound, the group produced "The Mekons Rock n' Roll", a sort-of concept album about (you guessed it) rock and roll music that celebrates both its virtues and excesses.

Rock and roll music about rock and roll music usually tends toward the sentimental and/or nostalgic (think of Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll", Huey Lewis and the News' "The Heart of Rock and Roll", even Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music"); even an edgier, questioning lyric like the Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)" resolves itself into the singalong comfort of its chorus. With the songs on Rock n' Roll, the Mekons take the Stones' uncertainties and tear them wide open. Rock and roll is presented as a slobbering, carniverous beast, devouring everything in its path.

"Memphis, Egypt" opens the album with a slashing, overdriven guitar, riffing over a pounding drumbeat. Another guitar enters from the side and mocks the first one with a clucking, countryish melody. A third guitar materializes, louder than the previous two combined, as if to silence their arguing, then the drums kick in really loud and the guitars all begin to play in unison, the mocking melody of the second guitar now the main riff of the song, only two or three times louder than before.

We know the Devil and we have shaken him by the hand, embraced him and thought his foul breath was fine perfume just like ROCK N' ROLL...

The amped-up country-and-western of their previous albums is still on display throughout Rn'R; Susie Honeyman's fiddle pokes its way through the distorted wash of Jon Langford's and Tom Greenhalgh's guitars on the waltz-time "Ring O' Roses" and the pretty "Learning to Live on Your Own" (sung by the band's secret weapon/MVP Sally Timms). "Empire of the Senseless" attacks McCarthyesque music censorship;

No-one's making any noise now,
SSHHH, we've been waiting for so long,

They took away our films and notebooks

But it's ok 'cos we've SELF-CENSORED this song.

"The Mekons Rock n' Roll" is an acid-tongued love letter to an abused and misused genre. The Mekons end up celebrating rock and roll while mocking "rock and roll" and leave behind an album which rocks (and rolls) harder than any previous song on the subject.


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