Mekons, Natural

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews



The only constant with the Mekons is change. From one disc to the next you never know where they'll go. They've been gleefully defying expectations since their earliest days: first they were a punk band that often played slow songs, then they became purveyors of socialist honky-tonk; later they ventured into dance music. This time around, they've made a largely acoustic album conceived and recorded in the bucolic English surroundings of the Lake District — home to Wordsworth, Coleridge and, of course, those waving daffodils — of Sussex. .

The Mekons stride on, if a bit more softly this time, into their fourth decade.

Don't be fooled into thinking they've gone all calm and peaceful, though; there's a dark undertow to songs like “The Old Fox” and “Zeroes and Ones” that bespeaks a post-apocalyptic thunder. The often quite retiring Tom Greenhalgh is front and centre, taking the lead on several tracks, while the usually effusive Jon Langford plays a backup role for much of the album — even his guitar work is muted, for the most part (although you can hear him wailing on harmonica). Musically, it's the band's typical mix of the imaginative and the ramshackle, sometimes astonishingly lush and soothing (the lilting, reggae-infected “Cockermouth”) and sometimes as raw and stark as a Saturday night head wound (“Dickie Chalkie and Nobby”).

As the band's eight members age, they seem to be looking afresh at their English roots, even though some of them have long lived elsewhere. On 2002's OOOH, there was “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem” (named for England's oldest pub, in Nottingham), a celebration of the history of British political protest; here that vision has expanded to consider both Britain's past and a present that struggles to find a green and pleasant land even now that those dark satanic mills are gone, consigned to the industrial dump by a service economy. Yes, there's a certain bleakness to it, but maybe that's just a reflection of the world today. Ultimately, it's a testament to the band that after 30 years they're still taking chances, and they don't have a shtick. The Mekons stride on, if a bit more softly this time, into their fourth decade.