Mekons PhotoFORMED: 1979, Leeds, England

More than any band that came out of late-'70s England, the Mekons (the name taken from the popular sci-fi comic Dan Dare) have perhaps the most devoted fans of any band even remotely connected to punk rock. And why not? After 16 years together, this band, with an ever-shifting lineup (only Jon Langford and Tom Greenhaigh remain from the original lineup), has produced some of the best rock & roll on the planet; be it amateurish rock-noise, cool synth-driven pop, guitar rave-ups, or post-modern Country & Western, the Mekons have done it all and done it with style, grace, and a ribald sense of humor. Emerging from the same Leeds University "scene" that begat the Gang of Four, the Mekons weren't as overtly political as their Marxist-inspired brethren, but their punk-rock pedigree and unsubtle anti-Thatcher and -Reaganisms did set them apart from the post-punk world's innumerable careerists and posers. Their early recordings were exceedingly low-fi affairs that valued emotion and energy over anything that remotely resembled musical proficiency. Songs like "Never Been in a Riot" and "32 Weeks" sound as if the band entered the studio, arbitrarily decided who was going to play what, and started the tapes rolling. It was fun, challenging and anarchic -- principles to which the band has clung, musical genre notwithstanding, since their inception.

From the time of their debut album, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained, the Mekons had turned into a slightly more accomplished post-punk band, who, like their pals in the Gang of Four, wielded trebly guitars and shouted vocals over semi-funky rhythms tracks. The songs lacked focus, but this was a bizarre record that, for all of its oddly ingratiating music, offered little insight as to who was making it. This remained true for a couple of years or so as the band (basically Langford, Greenhaigh, Kevin Lycett and whoever else they could rope into a session) made one exciting, enigmatic and extremely difficult-to-find record after another.

In 1985, after it seemed the earth had swallowed them whole, the Mekons released the startling Fear and Whiskey, a ragged country album influenced by the ghosts of Hank Williams and Gram Parsons that was unlike anything they'd ever recorded. Thus began the second coming of the Mekons, who finally began to reach an underground/alternative rock audience that had missed them the first time around. Soon they began touring more frequently, putting on clamorous, exciting shows. Talented new members jumped on board, like violinist Susie Honeyman and singer Sally Timms, and even former Pretty Thing Dick Taylor was a Mekon for a while; records started coming out with more frequency and, despite considerable trouble from major labels that sent them back to the indies, could be found in nearly any record store. From Fear and Whiskey through subsequent records including The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll, Curse of the Mekons, Retreat from Memphis and Me, they have continually reinvented themselves: sodden country band, wiseass folk-rock band, cranked-up guitar band, troublemaking punk band. Whatever the scenario, what has remained consistent throughout the Mekons' existence has been great, great music. ~ John Dougan, All Music Guide