Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Edge of the World (1986)

More of the same from the Mekons after Fear and Whiskey, yes more where that came from, and in this case it's all anyone could have hoped for and much more than they could have asked. When a band this good reaches heights this lofty it's fun just to follow along. The most trifling throwaway gestures can bear the most surprising fruit. It's like great athletes having a great game, as if they have entirely absorbed their talents and skills and their ambitions and just effortlessly channeled it all doing the most amazing things. The ennui here is thick from track to track, but I bet they felt good. I bet they knew they were operating at peak levels. The punk-rock seems to play slightly the lesser role with the sawing and wheedling of their country interpretations more often ruling the day (although if you're looking for the punk workup, that would be "Dream Dream Dream"). They play a Patsy Cline cover, "Sweet Dreams," like a wailing funeral dirge. "Big Zombie" is pure rave-up, you know what to do with the volume knob. "Hello Cruel World" opens the album by turning the suicide's parting shot all upside down. "Shanty" is a faux but convincing enough seagoing ballad, and a pleasure too, particularly when the guitar goes carefully spider-picking on the break, "as we float off the edge of the world." And Sally Timms more and more emerges as a force than I had noticed previously. "Oblivion" works a nice tension between a lullaby melody, a churning throb from an electric guitar, and the way Timms's singing veers back and forth between flinty stone and a tremulous vulnerability. "Garage D'or" is another of her tone-and-word poems, sounding improvised on the spot with handheld tape recorder. I usually have little patience for this sort of thing, but I can't deny that, collectively, they do seem to have a knack for making it work—within the rhythms of the songs as they come and on its own terms as well. And the hits just keep coming. The Mekons are in possession of a number of ways to attack here, and remember, they are also in a phase where everything they do works. All you have to do is put it on.

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