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I’ve been meaning to post something from the UK band Mekons for a while now. They took the band's name from the Mekon, an evil, super-intelligent Venusian featured in the British 1950s-1960s comic Dan Dare. One cannot pick a Mekons album as representative of their sound because each record sounds different. Their 1985 classic Fear and Whiskey is proclaimed as their best album by many critics and fans. I don’t know if it is their best, but it is my favorite from the six I have heard. While that album has been reissued and is available for purchase, what is not in print is this 1989 CD that compiles the tracks from the LP plus bonus tracks from a string of EPs that followed. I’ve found a few snippets from other sources that I will quote to help you decide whether to grab it, and grab it you should.
The music is a mess of influences united on the bones of punk music. The Mekons always subscribed to the "anything goes" rules of Britain's "Class of '77," and Fear and Whiskey is their most famous example: this was the record where they started to assimilate country music. It was a radical move in mid-80s Britain, not least because of the right-wing politics that were associated with the style. Musicologists have labelled this the father of alt-country, that bastard offspring of indie rock and country/western-- though for as much as you hear it on "Darkness and Doubt" (complete with a John Wayne reference), or the cover of Hank Williams' hit "Lost Highway," country is just one of the styles jammed in here, along with English folk, Leeds punk, and whatever else was at hand. Anyone who expects scenic Americana will stop short at the second song, "Trouble Down South," a weird mini-drama that would bring a lesser album to its knees: Ken Lite narrates some kind of a military advance over a reggae-inflected drum machine and a wheezing accordion, while soprano Jaqui Callis struggles to hit her highest notes. As far as it fits here at all, it's to force the listener to accept that the Mekons are ready and willing to do whatever they want. -from a Pitchfork review by Chris Dahlen
"Being American was the coolest thing to be in the 20th century," said the Wales native. "It's problematic and contradictory, but at the height of the Reagan/Thatcher alliance, with market capitalism running rampage, and American imperialism having its second or third wave, there was a bunch of anarchist lefties in Leeds who were fascinated with Hank Williams and Bob Wills. "I can’t really explain it, but it really resonated with us," Langford continued. "I found country music to be a very powerful form of folk music. It was about drinking, cheating and stories that seemed to be about people’s actual lives. We thought punk rock would be like that. We thought punk could address reality in a political way. But when I heard Merle Haggard and Ernest Tubb, and hearing the simplicity of those songs? That was punk rock, and they were doing it a long time ago." -from an interview with Jon Langford in LA Times blog
Tom Greenhalgh, one of the primary creative forces in the Mekons, commented that as he listened to a great deal of country & western music in the early 1980's, "pretty soon the difference between the three chords of country and the three chords of punk became blurred." The album closes with a cover of Leon Payne's "Lost Highway".
The album's lyrics describe a dark scenario of a community struggling to retain its capacity for joy and humanity through a devastating war. Rock critic Robert Christgau described it as "sort of concept album about life during wartime". -from Wikipedia
You can find the liner notes here that tells who played what on each track.
Year of Release: 1989 Label: Rough Trade Catalog #: RTDCD 105 Genre: Cow-punk, Punk Rock, alt-country Media: CD Format: MP3 Bitrate: 320 kbps
Track List: Chivalry 04:03 Trouble Down South 04:15 Hard To Be Human Again 03:59 Darknes And Doubt 05:14 Psycho Cupid 02:52 (Dancebird On The Edge Of Time) Flitcraft 03:23 Country 02:54 Abernant 1984/85 02:21 Last Dance 03:12 Lost Highway 03:02 plus: (A Dancing Master Such As) Mr. Confess 06:02 Beaten And Broken 02:55 Chop That Child In Half 03:23 Hey! Susan 02:37 Garage D'Or 01:48 Slightly South Of The Border 03:42 Coal Hole 02:37 $1.000 Wedding 04:04 Rescue Mission 03:00