The Mekons – Fear And Whiskey (1985): Review

mekons

Produced by The Mekons
Label – Sin

Ask most professional music critics and the consensus will probably be that The Mekons are one of Britain’s most underrated and unheard collectives. Their stop/start career has been marked by continuous line up changes, tenuous ties to punk, country and folk, and a careless attention to proficiency in instrumental ability. Formed in 1977 by Leeds Art school students Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh, they borrowed The Gang Of Four’s equipment and released two chaotic albums before taking a sabbatical at the turn of the decade. Their debut, “The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen”, was described by critic Adam Barnett-Foster as “Dole queue rock by self confessed bad musicians. Intriguing first time around, but the novelty soon wears off”. Inspired by the mid 1980s miners’ strike, the band reconvened with new members and created a concept that took the spirit of punk, and applied their outrage with tempered grief, not fury. The resultant long player, “Fear And Whiskey”, takes on a loose war theme and to many remains their most important recording.

Given the adulation, it’s surprising just how un-remarkable the album is, with gloomy visions of a fractured society and an instrumental arrangement that is often subdued and disconnected by a band desperately searching for some form of solid direction. The spoken word dirge of “Trouble Down South” attempts to spread fear of U.S. led apocalypse spreading through the country, but all one remembers is a female voice wailing over some spoken word narration that sees Ken Lite unconvincingly trying to handle an American accent. “Hard To Be Human Again” sounds like The Clash without Strummer’s bite, which is kind of ironic when one considers that their “Never Been In A Riot” single was a pointed jibe at “White Riot”. Most of the record is liberally laced with Susie Honeymans’ sawing fiddle which, may be the reason why some critics incorrectly cite this as an early example of alt. country. Frankly, it’s a distraction that has led some delusional comparisons to The Pogues, who are of course better, more natural musicians, and created infinitely more memorable songs. The worst offense falls to Shelagh Quinn’s baffling “poem” “Psycho Cupid”, a dreary, droning monologue backed by a senseless backing that tests not only one’s will to listen, but to live. Fortunately, for those with a patient disposition, there is some cause for optimism as the record reaches its close with the bittersweet pop of “Last Dance”, and a decent cover of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway”.

Glum, sloppy, and probably only penetrable by armchair radicals, “Fear And Whiskey” is a struggle that’s only relieved as it comes to an end.

4/10

1 – Chivalry (5)
2 – Trouble Down South (3)
3 – Hard To Be Human Again (4)
4 – Darkness And Doubt (4)
5 – Psycho Cupid – Danceband On The Of Time (2)
6 – Flitcraft (4)
7 – Country (4)
8 – Abernant 1984/5 (4)
9 – Last Dance (7)
10 – Lost Highway (7)

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2 responses to “The Mekons – Fear And Whiskey (1985): Review

  1. Don’t worry Geoff, things are on the up. The next two records on the random album generator are Motorhead’s “Ace Of Spades” and The Flaming Lips “The Soft Bulletin”. One of these records may be in severe danger of getting a maximum score (very rare for me to give such high accolade). So my music listening world is pretty wonderful right now.

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