You, me, the music, and me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

MEKONS Retreat from Memphis

Quarterstick QS26 (1994)

Why, oh why, aren't the Mekons more famous? Why isn't their picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine instead of Britney Spears or the cast of The O.C.? Could one ever hope to find a more loveable band of aging anarchist punks who just happen to play some of the most life-affirming rock and roll you'll ever hear in this lifetime? Maybe it's just as well... do we really want the rest of the world to find out about good music? Huh?

Retreat from Memphis was recorded soon after the Mekons' brief major label dalliance with A & M and found the group continuing to develop the classic rock and roll sound of "The Mekons Rock n' Roll" from five years before. It was released on the band's own Quarterstick label on CD, cassette, and a limited vinyl edition of one thousand copies. It was pressed as a sort of double album, with one disc containing only five songs and mastered at 45 rpm; this way, the band was able to include all of the music from the 61-minute CD without leaving any songs off or trying to cram everything onto one record (which can sometimes result in a decrease in sound quality).

Retreat is definitely a rock record, but it contains the usual elements of country and folk that give the Mekons' music its unique flavour. "Ice Rink in Memphis" is a haunting uptempo ballad that mixes a lilting twang beat with blasts of metallic guitar, and "The Flame that Killed John Wayne" is a flat-out rocker that recalls The Clash at their most strident. In fact, the Mekons seem to pick up where the Clash left off, both musically and philosophically; they share the ability to effortlessly mix leftist politics with hard-hitting yet tuneful punk rock. "Our Bad Dream" recalls the Sandinista!-era dub experiments of the Clash (especially if you play it at the wrong speed, which I just did).

Retreat from Memphis and the music of the Mekons will appeal to anyone with an ear for heartfelt, ambitious rock and roll. If you don't own at least one Mekons album, you're missing out on one of punk's best kept secrets.


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