Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll (1989)

When I say The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll is my favorite album by the Mekons, I should probably also mention there may be some wild-hair element in that of latent hometown boosterism, as the Twin/Tone label, gateway drug to Twin Cities '70s and '80s punk-rock and home of the Replacements, Suburbs, and Curtiss A, among others, had a hand in this getting out, "by arrangement with A&M Records, which continues to manufacture and distribute the CD." This came fourth in line for the label after it had put out a few earlier lesser efforts of the mid- and late '80s, such as Honky Tonkin' and Original Sin—the Mekons, as I feel like I keep saying, was not only at its peak in this period but incredibly prolific as well. And it was a particularly awesome experience to put this on, worried it might be the community-theater kind of effort of which any local label is capable (and no doubt already guilty as well), not to mention the Mekons by design lived and breathed imminent self-destruction, self-immolation, and/or melting down to the center of the earth, a point, sadly enough, if they only knew, the children, oh the children, that is fated to be achieved sooner or later just in the nature of things. And there and then in that moment had my socks knocked absolutely right off by the roar. Yeah, rock 'n' roll. Which only meant an interesting new type of same old element, because the punkism and the country were still there, only receded into a landscape getting impressively complex and just plain impressively impressive. If I didn't know better I would call this an unprecedented second crossroads album. It's a lot of the usual shambolics, verse-chorus-verse clinging to life by force of will and the band playing it that way too, but—and maybe this goes to the pervasive influence that the sensation Sonic Youth was causing at the time—there's a consciousness of a deliberate texturing of sound I had not heard before in the Mekons. Nothing overt, just things one hears in the way they play with suddenly so much more clarity, in the definition of the arrangements (or the recording) and band interactions, tighter and more choreographed and more satisfying on playing loud and listening levels. "Memphis, Egypt" is where it starts—that's the one that gets your attention at 29 seconds in—and "When Darkness Falls" ends it on a whimper. In between it is so much bruising bliss. The titles tell: "Club Mekon," "Only Darkness Has the Power," "Empire of the Senseless," totally epic in "Amnesia," all episodes of Heironymous Bosch drunker after hours in saloon. And so forth. I'm not saying the urge to be in a rock 'n' roll pantheon is the best impulse any rock 'n' roll band ever had. I'm saying the Mekons played and sweated and earned their way into it. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, are you getting this?

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