(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CD review - Mekons, Ancient and Modern, 1911-2011 (2011)

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold

The Mekons long ago grew past their punker roots to take on English folk, American country, and rock. Garnering a loyal fanbase and critical acclaim, the band has hung around the fringes for decades. Ancient and Modern, 1911-2011 is the band's latest release and it's ambitious in scope of style and time.

The songs wander through the eras, from the old-time, flapper sound of Geeshie, through the stately Kinks sound of I Fall Asleep, and into the Scary Monsters Bowie vibe of Calling All Demons. The century reference in the title also tries to bridge the gap from here to the end of England's Edwardian period.

The common theme seems to echo the lines from Yeats' The Second Coming:
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
Some of the songs make the assertion and others seem inclined to argue. This theme anchors the album and overlays the shifts in musical direction.

The first two tracks illustrate the two views. Ancient and Modern's opening song, Warm Summer Sun is a masterpiece. The hesitant, lazy rhythm at the start bears slight hints of disquiet from the violin strings in the deep corners as the lyrics offer a pastoral picture of calm:
The warm summer sun
At the end of the day

Before an evening that lasts forever

Gently sleeping on the soft green grass
Or riding out on a frosty morning
The free verse lyrics sound deceptively relaxed, given away by subtle hints of violin tension: secrets and traps are hidden. Then, the mood unravels and the lyrics turn dark:
I look out on corpses
Skeleton trees

An unimaginable Hell in front of my eyes
Warm Summer Sun succeeds because of the stark contrast between darkness and hazy light and because of the raw emotion it shares.

The following song, Space in Your Face, balances out the first track. It's a power pop rocker with a strong Guided By Voices vibe. You can hear the same influences of the Who pump up the energy. A wavering electronic thread adds a modern feel that keeps it from falling into retro pastiche. The feel is life affirming and anthemic even as the lyrics are more personal:
Like an actor plays a part
I'll make the world think light is dark
Or maybe just convince myself
I was tempted to believe
The two songs' combination of hesitance and assertion, despair and bluster, sum up the Ancient and Modern as well as our time.

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