‘Ghosts ofAmerican Astronauts‘). but the new LP. The Mekons Rock’n‘Roll is a much more basic affair. Recorded after the songs had been worked on live on tour. the record and gigs will have you comparing them to the roughest and best garage bands you‘ve ever heard.
Leeds-based singer and guitarist Jon Langford (who also makes up a third ofthat fine. snarling combo The Three Johns). doesn‘t seem to miss the ethnic/world influences that characterised the band‘s last album.
‘Well, we think that‘s been kind of overplayed anyway. We‘ve never been like that when we‘ve played live. There‘s things we‘ve been interested in in the studio. but we thought it was time to do something a bit more direct. I think a lot of people are backing themselves into an alley there. Cultural colonialism is an ugly sight.‘
Langford may well mockingly call The Mekons Rock ’n 'Roll ‘a concept album‘. but he‘s not entirely joking. His lyrics return time and time again to the music he loves, and not always favourably. ‘Memphis, Egypt‘. a song about how it seems to be the worst aspects of Western culture that are latched on to by those outside it, is a case in point. What are they saying about rock‘n‘roll in Rock 'n 'Roll?
‘Quite a few things. really, but mostly the idea that rock‘n‘roll starts off as something that‘s really exciting
— I‘m a bit ofa fetishist about the roots of rock‘n‘roll — and now when you think about what it is— programmes like The Rock ’n ’Roll Years on TV and bands like U2 somehow connected with rock‘n‘roll in some way — you see this industry that‘s got Norman Tebbit at the BF] Awards, and it‘s almost like a metaphor for post-war capitalism, in England particularly.‘
A scathing aside at the expense of ‘The Dublin Mesiah‘ in the lyrics shows where Langford‘s loyalties lie. He‘s more sympathetic towards Eric Burdon (who also gets a namecheck), for the ignorance the latter faced when he played to segregated audiences in the American South in 1964. ‘People were coming up to him after the show to say how blown away they were by his music. And he says “This music comes from this town“. and they‘re going “Oh no. that‘s just nigger shit . .
The lyrical reference to Led Zeppelin‘s isn‘t so loaded. and harks back to the Zep bio Hammer ofthe Gods, which members of the band read and decided was more exciting than listening to records. ‘A joke we had in the studio was to make songs that sounded like the descriptions in the book.‘
‘Empire of the Senseless‘ is one song in which they explicitly take on the Britain of today, the apparently nonsensical line ‘These lines are all
individuals/And there‘s no such thing as a song‘ mocking Thatcher‘s assertion that society doesn‘t exist. Though reeling a little under the weight ofits pronouncements ‘Empire ofthe Senseless‘ never buckles, and stands out as one of the album‘s highlights.
‘It‘s interesting for us. because we‘ve just signed a distribution deal with A&M in America. so we‘re up to our necks in the industry as well. But it‘s like trying to write songs about that situation, rather than just standing shouting “Biko, Biko“.‘
If they did that, God knows what they‘d get shouted back at them. From personal experience. I‘d say they attracted the most imaginative hecklers in every town they played.
‘I like proper heckling. I don‘t like wimpy stuff. I like about 50 people screaming “fuck off“ at the tops of their voices. In places like Boston you get 50 people screaming in your face and that‘s much better than all this studenty stuff.
And the revelations by one Cynthia Plastercaster recently that cuddly and bashful Langford was one ofthe more impressively-endowed rock stars it had ever been her pleasure to mould?
‘No comment. I didn‘t go near a newsagents for a week after that. It‘s all perfectly innocent. . . . Really.‘ The Mekons play at The Venue, Edinburgh on Tuesday 3.
ROCK35 M2241 FOLK42 CLASSICAL“
I Lou Reed: Retro (RCA) Cashing in on the success of‘New York‘ on WEA. RCA have reshuffled the tracks for yet another Lou Reed compilation, and. if you already own one. you'll have a fair idea of what‘s on this. However. ‘Retro‘ can hardly be called a career retrospective — no Velvet Underground material appears. and apart from 1984‘s ‘1 Love You. Suzanne‘ all the tracks are from 1972—76. Four years. It takes Tears for Fears that long to produce one album. Never mind his long fallow periods— ‘Retro‘ is a celebration of Reed‘s second period of blinding creativity. released as he gets into the stride of his third. (Alastair Mabbott)
I Syd Straw: Surprise (Virgin America) The former Golden Palominos singer has assembled a stellar crew for this. her first solo album. Ry Coodcr. Van Dyke Parks. Richard Thompson. Don Was. Michael Stipc and Bernie Worrell (and more left-field figures like Peter Blegvad. Anthony Moore. Tony Levin. Roger Eno and Anton Fier) assist Straw in a sophisticated-sounding album with its roots in country. rock and post-Dylan folk. A fair amount of singer-songwriter preciousness is apparent. but it‘s a creditable solo debut. and only needs a few sympathetic night-owl DJs to start the process of making Syd Straw a star. (Alastair Mabbott)
I Bob Dylan: 0h Mercy! (CBS) Bouncing back from the artistic malaise evident on recent albums. Dylan here produces perhaps his best LPthis decade. Comparison with his 70s masterpiece ‘Blood on the Tracks' is inevitable; this is an introspective. mature Dylan knocking out songs full ofemotional directness and intensity. An unprecedentedly laid-back. low-key. broodingincarnation of the artist has emerged in 'Oh Mercyl‘. however. his sometimes tortured vocals lend a remarkable poignancy to such songs as ‘Ring Them Bells‘ and ‘Shooting Star‘, which signify a welcome and wonderful return to the kind of form we expect of the man. (Stuart Kay)
The List 29 September- 12 October 1989 31