Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dirty Books and a Ford Cortina

Just got my copy of Simon Reynolds' excellent Rip It Up and Start Again, now in US paperback, which thoroughly examines the postpunk scene of 1978 through 1984. One surprise to me was Reynolds' description of the first Mekons album, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, as a failure that the band struggled to overcome. The album's production wasn't the greatest (the stereo panning of the drums is distracting), and the songs may have been less shambolic than the Mekons' early singles, but it's hardly a polished album. Reynolds may fault them for being untrue to their initial ideals, but the Mekons couldn't help but evolve into better musicians and songwriters. The album cover is a photo of a monkey at a typewriter (which helps to explain the title).

All I know is that I played the hell out of this record as a teenager. "Dan Dare" was right up there in my personal top ten with "Totally Wired" and "12XU". I loved Kevin Lycett's guitar, and the Mekons were clearly exploring the same sonic territory as the Gang of Four. Listening to the album again, I am struck by the personal stories the songs tell of infidelity and remorse ("Like Spoons No More", "Roseann"), social insecurity ("What" and "After 6"), and even eating disorders ("Beetroot"). The chapter in Rip It Up about the Leeds scene makes a great point of how bands like the Gang of Four and the Mekons saw the personal as political. I wish that the chapter contained more about the female-fronted bands on the scene (Ludus, Au Pairs, Essential Logic, and the Delta 5). Reynolds quotes Mekons singer Mark White as saying that he deliberately adopted a "wimpy" lyrical persona, a wonderful contrast to the macho bravado of bands like the Stranglers. Mark White's voice is part of what makes Mercy songs like "Roseann" and "Lonely and Wet" so moving.

Last year, the Mekons released an excellent 2cd career retrospective called Heaven and Hell. I was disappointed that The Quality of Mercy is not represented, especially when there are songs from such lesser albums as Devils Rats and Piggies and the Kathy Acker record. Maybe there were licensing issues. The Quality of Mercy was released on CD by Caroline (with six bonus tracks), but is now out of print. Here are two of the songs that moved me as a teenager. (If you left click on each file, it will download to your desktop.)

The Mekons: Trevira Trousers
The Mekons: Dan Dare


At 7/04/2006 10:55 AM , Anonymous Craig said...

Agree 100%. Although if you can get hold of the Peel Session with I Saw You Dance / Beetroot / Dan Dare / Lonely and Wet, those versions are even livelier that the lp versions.

Dunno if Strange Fruit ever released a Mekons sessions CD.

At 7/06/2006 5:13 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Another record I can search for, just when I thought I had everything I ever wanted! Damn the luck. Thank you.


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