The Mekons – Fear and Whiskey Sin Record Co. SIN 001 (1985)
By the time the 1980s rolled around, there were decades of recorded music widely available in the Western World. This remarkable technology sort of raised the bar for allowing great performances to reach wider audiences. Others have noted the dark side too, with regional peculiarities eventually giving way to fairly homogeneous musical culture, and with ordinary people less musically literate–they didn’t have to perform themselves to regularly hear music any longer. So, in that sometimes claustrophobic setting, it made sense that musicians would begin to look back and recombine the various elements already floating around. Enter The Mekons. Originally part of the punk scene, they took a brief hiatus and then came back as something different. Often described as “cow punk”, they kept elements of punk but were adding country music to it. Really, they added a whole lot more than just country. But country was a type of music increasingly associated with uneducated rural and working class people, with conservative values, and punks didn’t always fit that description. The Mekons proved it could be seamlessly incorporated into an urban, educated, left-leaning band’s music. This album holds a special place in the hearts of many listening to college radio in the day, though the follow-up The Edge of the World is arguably even better. It’s an amalgam of all sorts of things, with “Psycho Cupid (Danceband on the Edge of Time)” drawing some elements of the post-punk offered by English bands like Swell Maps and Essential Logic. The use of drum machines and melodica are reminiscent of The The. Lots of the punchy numbers on side two recalled the punkish celtic folk of The Pogues. But there is plenty of anthemic rock here too (“Hard to Be Human Again,” “Last Dance”). The irreverent, eclectic approach evokes, of all things, Headquarters-type Monkees albums. What it all meant was that there was something to be found looking back, taking bits and pieces of the past and pulling them together, holding none of it too sacred to be meddled with. This is a good album to hear just about anytime.