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Members include Sarah Corina (replaced Ross Allen), bass; Tom Greenhalgh, rhythm guitar; Susie Honeyman, violin; Jon Langford, lead guitar and vocals; John Langley (replaced Mark Lafalce), drums; Sally Timms (joined group, 1986), vocals. Other original members included Andy Carrigan and Mark White on guitars. Addresses: Record company--Touch and Go, P.O. Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625.
In the mid-1990s, two decades after their formation, the U.K. rock band the Mekons were still struggling to pull their career together. Once again, they seemed on the verge of breaking through into the mass market. They released an album in 1993 titled I Mekons, which recalled the ferocious despair that first sparked England's punk movement. Sometimes dismissed as remnants of the punk flameout in the 1980s, the Mekons lost a few musicians since their debut in 1977. In the 1990s the group had a new label, Quarterstick/Touch and Go, after years of static and, according to the band, neglect from other record companies. They followed the prickly romance cycle I Mekons with the 1994 effort Retreat from Memphis, chronicling their rear guard action against the musical establishment.
Lead singer Sally Timms is a willowy blonde with a broken glass voice. Guitarist Tom Greenhalgh supports her with tenor harmonies. Jon Langford, lead guitarist and cofounder of the group with Greenhalgh--they were both art students in Leeds, England--lends exuberance to the stew. Back in the days when "New Wave" was being invented, the Mekons wrote a cynically humorous response to the Clash's "White Riot" entitled "Never Been in a Riot." Released in 1977, it was their first "hit" single.
The Mekons are an urban guerrilla band in a bleak, moonlit landscape. The band's nom de plume comes from an English comic strip, The Eagle, in which imperialist adventurer Dan Dare flees evil space invaders called Mekons. The band scorns the commercial romance favored by their older British compatriots, Paul McCartney and Phil Collins. When the Mekons speak of love, the word is ironic but somehow innocent, like badly applied lipstick. In the song "Millionaire," Timms croons, "Everybody's so in love, but they don't touch or meet." The band's attitude recalls the political outrage that spawned punk--the anger now tempered with grief.
It is difficult to pigeonhole the Mekons' sound. Early in their career, the band featured dissonant anti-music-- guitars crunched into sledgehammer drums. The Leeds bar scene also produced bands such as Gang of Four with similar orchestrations. The Mekons' first album was The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, a play on words echoing the aphorism that a monkey could create the works of Shakespeare if given enough time. In the punk ethos, it did not matter if rockers could sing or play their instruments better than the members of the audience. The theory was that people on stage were the same as their listeners, a deliberate revulsion from the rock-star syndrome.
Later, the Mekons became more polished, added the soulful Timms in 1986, and used keyboards, horns, and drum machines. They incorporated the sounds of reggae, blues, folk and American country. In some incarnations, the Mekons abandoned their trademark confrontational blasts of sound but invariably pushed the boundaries of convention. At times, the band exhibited a demented honky-tonk style with fiddles and country and western embellishments, as in 1987's Honky Tonkin'.
The later albums with Timms exude a baleful intelligence. There are always punk echoes, but a melodic interest that salutes the great songsmiths of Tin Pan Alley and Nashville is also evident. The Mekons changed their methods frequently, searching for a formula that combine pop and punk. Fear and Whiskey, released in 1985, spat out a message of hallucinated gloom: "darkness and doubt just follow us about." Rock and Roll (1989) was an electric blitzkrieg through the corridors of industry power and the mirrors along them. Curse of the Mekons (1991) employed a more subdued acoustic mix with banjo, violin, accordion, and bagpipes.
Bassist Sarah Corina, as quoted in Interview magazine, has stated that if you love the Mekons, "you could take it as loving an alien," a practice she viewed as good for extraterrestrial relations. Many reviewers have loved the Mekons throughout their career. Dave Jennings of Melody Maker described the I Mekons album as "simultaneously a brilliant, exhilarating pop record and an exploration of the assumptions behind other people's pop records." The band bewailed its distance from success, turning it into a metaphor for the failures of the heart.
Most critics agree that it is rare to find a rock band that considers ideas in its music. The Mekons persistently challenge the demise of rock as a spiritual quest that involves the mind as well as the viscera. The band asserts passion as the fundamental human condition and resists social conditioning and hero worship. While acknowledging the band's intellectual side, Langford still likes the "sonic stuff," according to Net magazine. He pointed to the band's celebrated live performances as his ideal mode, stripped to guitars, drums, and bandmember Susie Honeyman's violin. In their headbanging guise, driving for "truth, justice and Led Zeppelin," as the chorus from the song "Amnesia" puts it, the band could shake the rafters for its devoted following. "Memphis, Egypt," one of their standard set numbers, advises: "Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late." The audience howls its assent.
Greenhalgh tried to summarize the band's cerebral-cum- intestinal style for Request magazine: "The whole punk- rock approach has a certain distance; it's not as simple as early rock 'n' roll. So coming from that background, it makes sense to have a certain distance in the way you work.... The real world is infinitely more complex than we can ever imagine."
by Paul E. Anderson
Mekons, The's Career
Group formed in 1977 by Langford and Greenhalgh; played the bar scene in Leeds, England; toured extensively in England and the United States. Langford settled in Chicago and Timms became a resident of New York City; Greenhalgh stayed in London. The band changed labels and styles repeatedly but developed a cult following in both Europe and America.
- Selective Works
- The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, Virgin.
- Mekons, Redmek, 1980.
- Fear and Whiskey, 1985.
- Honky Tonkin', 1987.
- The Mekons' Rock and Roll, A&M, 1989.
- Mekons New York, ROIR, 1990.
- Curse of the Mekons, Blast First, 1991.
- I Mekons, Quarterstick/Touch and Go, 1993.
- Retreat from Memphis, Quarterstick/Touch and Go, 1994.
- (Contributors) You Are What You Shoot, 1995.
- Billboard, January 27, 1990; December 8, 1990.
- CMJ, September 27, 1993.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 22, 1993; May 6, 1994.
- Interview, November 1993.
- Metro Times (Detroit), June 1994.
- Net, October 1993.
- People, December 18, 1989.
- Pulse!, December 1993.
- Request, November 1993.
- Rolling Stone, July 2, 1987; October 14, 1993; February 10, 1994; June 1, 1995.
- Spin, November 1993.
- Stereo Review, September 1987.
Mekons, The Lyrics
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