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Punk Rock

Wednesday, Mar 24 2004
One of the aspects distinguishing rock 'n' roll from the pop, country, and jazz of previous generations is that rockers very seldom revisit their back catalogs in a studio context. While iconic figures Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, and Duke Ellington (to name three) remade/remodeled songs from their respective histories (several times, in fact), few rockers ever take a shot at bringing new perspectives to their old songs and preserving the results for all to hear (as opposed to leaving the tunes to the archival wiles of fans and bootleggers). And while we're talking icons, one of the longest-lived English-speaking rock 'n' roll bands, the Mekons, has done just that with its latest, the non-ironically titled Punk Rock.

To celebrate their 25-plus years, the Mekons exhumed their 1977-1984 set lists, when they made their rep first as primitive and abrasive, then as arty and abrasive, punk rockers from Leeds (who were raw enough to make the Ramones sound like the Who). While some of PR (the group-shouted blitzkriegs "Fight the Cuts" and "Dan Dare") is brash, exultant thrash with vocals barked out with alacrity born of beer, piss-and-vinegar socialist politics, and cheap speed, some songs (the tenderly musing "What"; the jovial, Caribbean- and West African-tinged take on "Work All Week") are reconsidered through the post-punk, country- and world music-influenced approach the band embraced after 1985. The slightly more refined (but still blustery) side of the Mekons' history (circa 1980's Mekons) is expressed via the folk-into-free-form "Chopper Squad" (starts like Dolly Parton, ends like Gastr del Sol) and the agitated white-boy funk of "Trevira Trousers," which will remind older listeners of Gang of Four and A Certain Ratio. Oddly enough, while one of their earliest songs, "Never Been in a Riot" -- their sarcastic response to the Clash's "White Riot" -- is present, their '77 "hit," the anthemic "Where Were You," is not. But if they didn't confound audience expectations, they wouldn't be the Mekons we love so much, would they?

About The Author

Mark Keresman


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