Original Class of ‘77 Leeds punk/art collective The Mekons have been making eclectic, intriguing and fun music for 25 years now, and the latest album is one of their strongest in over a decade.
OOOH! (an acronym for their year-old art project, Out of Our Heads, which featured severed head busts and provocative messages) finds the internationally-based, eight-member band—the same line-up that produced alt-country masterpiece Fear and Whisky—expertly juggling its rich array of influences: Brit folk-rock, Welsh and Celtic, Appalachian country and gospel, punk, Middle Eastern, and other roots music combined with literate, thought-provoking and humorous lyrics that usually have a bleak (dry Brit humor) take on mankind’s destructive and confounding impulses—particularly issues of religion and politics.
Track one, the riotous chant/sing-a-long “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem,” sets a mock-religious tone from the start, with original vocalist John Langford and crew belting out suggestive lyrics to a stomping backbeat ("they’re building a temple/ on the back of the people/ sign of the profit") that ironically address 9-11 concerns even though the songs were written by March of 2001. The religious themes resonate throughout; the atheistic group has said that most were inspired by William Blake, William Morris and radical Christian sects, not 9-11. Still, the album is being hailed by critics nationwide as the best musical response so far to the tragedy.
The Mekons are far more artful and interesting with their metaphors and historical/political reference points than your average aging rockers (the song previously mentioned is named after the oldest pub in England, where 12th-century crusaders swilled mead before heading off to smite Muslims). Enjoyable on several levels, the music here can be appreciated for the realism of its middle-aged disillusionment with modern life or just the sheer fun of its pub-like, “elder punk-folkie” fiddle and accordion celebrations.
The ballads are good too: With a sultry, fragile voice, singer Sally Timms warns of "dangerous bibles," then wearily repeats the chorus on the hauntingly beautiful "Hate Is the New Love"—"There’s no peace/ On this terrible shore/ Everyday is a battle/How we still love the war." Funny, angry, light-hearted, concerned and joyous—all in a quick, 11-song, 38-minute disc that still manages to be one of the best all-around rock albums of the year.