Music Reviews
Ancient & Modern

The Mekons Ancient & Modern

(Bloodshot Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

I left off with the Mekons after their masterful 1989 album, The Mekons Rock and Roll, which included what I think is one of the greatest songs ever made in the punk spirit, Memphis, Egypt.  Apparently they kept chugging along through lineup changes and a buying public (at least in the States) that never really bought into their unique brand of passion, activism and Leeds-iness.  I can’t speak for what came between, but it appears that the Mekons have not lost a step in the quavering, righteous indignation sweepstakes.  Ancient and Modern is a fairly strong collection of songs, employing mostly acoustic instruments, and delivered with the kind of conviction few other bands can muster without sounding ridiculous.  The great news is they are ramshackle as ever.  They never put the highest priority on getting every note exactly right, concentrating more on the overall feel of a performance – an idea the early punks understood better than anybody since the Kingsmen.  It’s so refreshing to hear competent, not proficient, musicians giving a song everything they have.  You go back and listen to those early Presley Sun sides and you’ll hear Scotty Moore, as good as he was, fucking up left and right, with glorious results.  The new music was stretching him to the edge of his abilities and you are constantly reminded of the presence of a gifted but flawed (like all of us) human being plying his trade. 

Anyway, The Mekons always got this and still do.  You can keep all your blurps and beeps and beats and programming and over-emotive posturing and saturated waveforms; this is the only kind of music I care about and want to listen to.  Not that this is the greatest example of “the real thing” as I’ll presumptively label it, but goddamnit it’s real and it simmers and it at least tries to be compelling most of the time.  It feels good to hear people try, and not just show you what they can do.  I’m sick of talent, see way too much of it to care if I ever see it again.  There are 6 billion people on this pathetic rock and folks with talent are everywhere.  In fact they are getting difficult to avoid.  So I’ve reached my saturation point with talent, and hence when a collection of zeros and ones like this shows up over the transom I kind of have to rejoice, even if I’m going to fess up and admit that I like but don’t love this album.  The material is strong but rarely achieves greatness.  It flirts with it here and there, like on the touching I Fall Asleep, or the driving Space in Your Face, and there are good enough moments in between to make this a worthwhile set though others will have to say whether it’s a return to form, since I don’t know whether they ever really sagged.  Listening to this album, I’d find that hard to believe.