Monday, September 1, 2014

rock 'n' roll

The Mekons crossed over the border into the majors and fought long and hard with their senseless imperialist overseers to create their most powerful artistic statement in this blistering tour de force.  Having released a string of critically acclaimed albums that invented their own brand of country punk ('Fear and Whiskey' and 'The Edge of the World' on UK Sin, and  'Honky Tonkin'' and 'So Good It Hurts' on Twin Tone) and experimented with other musical styles, the band found themselves presented with a deal with A&M Records.  

Jon Langford relates the band's distrust of major labels:     "Usually we wanted out. Usually it was just, like, situations that weren't going anywhere. We'd been with major labels, we were fired by Virgin which was kind of predictable. I don't know why they even signed us in the first place. It was just that kind of madness, the sort of feeding frenzy that goes on when something new comes out.    All these A&R men who think they know the secret of everything that's commercial, run around with their check books wide-open trying to sign everything. And they signed The Mekons, that was obviously not a commercial band in any way.   More so when we signed to A&M in 1989. We signed kind of more with our eyes open, and we signed because we thought that there was some theory by which a band like ourselves could exist on a major label. And we could make records quite cheaply and sell a modest amount of records, but still make the record company money.    But after the guy who set up that deal left, and a lot of accountants come along and they -- what are these people doing on the label? Yeah, that's a very good question. We don't belong on a major label. It's never been a very happy experience. I've always felt I'm like an employee when I'm on a major label."

'Rock 'n' Roll'  was produced by The Mekons with Ian Caple  in London.  It was recorded at Terminal 24, Almeida Street and mixed at Berry Street Recording Studio and featured Steve Goulding on drums; Tom Greenhalgh on vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, and synth;  Susie Honeyman on fiddle;  Jon Langford on vocals, guitar, piano, and synth;  Sally Timms on vocals;  and Mr. Knee (Lu Edmonds) on bass and cümbüş;   with deputy Mekons Rico Bell on accordian and backing vocals;  Brendan Croker on guitar and backing vocals;  John Gill on melodian;  Dick Taylor on guitar;  and Bobby Worby on organ;  and guest James Greenhalgh on guitar.  The cover paintings 'Portraits of Elvis Presley in the style of Jackson Pollock' Nos. 7 & 12 were done by Mekons. The album was subtitled 'Rock 'n' Roll (...a can of ideological worms)'.  

Greenhalgh gripes:  "I don't think art is important... For the mekons mixing things up is part of trying to break down boundaries and categories that come up as when things are commodified in this society. Art is a speculative commodity ... Things evolve informally but we generally have a pretty strong idea of what a record is going to be about, what's allowed and what is or isn't appropriate...The songs are more developed if they've been played live before recording them but then you miss out on fragility and accidents...I think 'Rock 'n' Roll''s OK, but it's by no means my favourite Mekons album."

 Langford considers:   "One of the things that 'Rock 'n' Roll'  is about is that we are up to our necks in the rock'n'roll industry. It's spurned us all these years, and now we're jumping back, to sort of put the screws to it. In Britain, the music business is one if the major capitalist concerns. We're recognizing that there is not much you can do about it other than to analyze and discuss it. 'Rock 'n' Roll'  is a metaphor for Western capitalist culture. It is everywhere. What has happened in East Berlin is that they want a slice of it. Listen to the news broadcasts and you hear rock'n'roll in the background. The glamour and glitz, and mystique of the entire rock'n'roll culture, of drinking Coca-Cola in slow motion just like on television. It has corrupted us in more ways than we know. Countries that are in the throes of dissent don't comprehend the underbelly of capitalism.   Walking around New York City is a view of what disgusts me, and it portrays the grit of capitalism. In the States, and even in England, seeing the way people live on the streets as compared to how their lives are portrayed on TV, this is a stressful situation. The aspirations people are forced to live up to is just incredible, to be successful and to have to live up to these nebulous concepts.   Rock 'n' roll started as a phrase that means sex. Now it's a phrase that means money. It's a teenage culture that's been alive for almost forty years...The 'Rock 'n' Roll'  album is a much more fully realized record. It has a very consistent feel throughout the entire record. You make mistakes along the way, but this one just has a great rock'n'roll feel to it. Sure, there's people who are going to like our mid-'80s records better than our '90s records. Some think our 'Honky Tonkin'' LP is our best. 'So Good It Hurts' was a good record, but it wasn't planned so well."

Timms tenders:   "I think because we ignored the mainstream structure of the industry. So we weren't subject to having hits or commercial success. We basically just carved out our own route. I think there are times when people have found us very frustrating and irritating, the fact that we're even still around. It kind of goes in weird circles, cause people go off us and then they come round again and they go off us. I think they're as curious as we are about how it manages to just keep stumbling along. It's getting old now, so it can't do as much as it used to, but it's still kind of pottering about with its walker ...  I think the 'Rock’n’Roll' LP is our best to date. It sounds better, jumps out at you and is much more coherent. We were aiming at the old Rolling Stones and Faces records. The LP is raucous, loud, and noisy. It really goes back to the way things used to be."

The American version of 'Rock 'n' Roll'  omits "Ring O' Roses" and "Heaven and Back".   I had a chance to ask Jon Langford about this before a show in Boston:   "The execs at A&M were sort of checked out.  As we were finishing the record, one of these clueless bastard middle managers came in and said we had to take two songs off of the final listing.  Don't ask me why.  We suggested "Heaven and Back" as a bit of a lark, because it was an obvious contender for a single, and he didn't even bat an eye.  We just shook our heads."    Although those songs were later released on 'The Dream and Lie of...' EP, suffice to say, you should seek out the import version on Blast First Records.

"Memphis, Egypt" 
"destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late!"

"Learning to Live on Your Own"

"Empire of the Senseless" 
"all unacceptable gropings have been removed from this song".   seriously, A&M edited out the word "homosexuality"

"Heaven and Back" might be their greatest moment.  


"Blow Your Tuneless Trumpet"

'Rock 'n' Roll' 
full album:

"Memphis, Egypt" – 3:37
"Club Mekon" – 3:29
"Only Darkness Has the Power" – 3:28
"Ring O' Roses" – 4:07
"Learning to Live on Your Own" – 4:37
"Cocaine Lil" – 2:51
"Empire of the Senseless" – 4:35
"Someone" – 2:44
"Amnesia" – 4:31
"I Am Crazy" – 3:28
"Heaven and Back" – 3:16
"Blow Your Tuneless Trumpet" – 3:56
"Echo" – 4:33
"When Darkness Falls" – 3:53


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