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Mekons: So Good It Hurts (1988) September 24, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Mekons: So Good It Hurts

Mekons: So Good It Hurts

There’s cult bands, and then there’s the Mekons. They first appeared during the late ’70s punk scene and are still around, through an endless series of lineup changes, musical styles, side projects, and legendary live shows. I’ve encountered people online who see the Mekons every chance they get, buy all the albums, argue the merits of various side projects, and evangelize the Mekon cause to all who will listen. But I’ve never really managed to get completely into them.

I own one Mekons CD, I ♥ Mekons, which I bought because I loved the song “Millionaire,” an upbeat new wavey pop tune with a dreamy vocal by Sally Timms. But the rest of the album never really connected with me; I just kept playing “Millionaire” on repeat. But I kept hearing how great the Mekons were, and how their album Fear and Whiskey was a big alt.country influence, and I remembered liking “Ghosts of American Astronauts” when I saw the video ages back, so I got a couple of Mekons albums from eMusic, one of them being So Good It Hurts.

The album starts with a slightly skewed take on Caribbean-influenced ’70s pop rock, with a bit of a reggae feel, male vocals, and a lovely violin line, with lyrics that undercut the pleasant music. Then comes the utterly essential country-influenced ballad, “Ghosts of American Astronauts,” a song whose lyrics, which read like a condensed J.G. Ballard story, are sung beautifully by Timms. This is the one likely to get played indefinitely on repeat.

The next track is a good, pounding rocker, “Road to Florida,” a definite change of pace. Next up is a reggae take on “Johnny Miner,” which reminds me for some reason of the Clash’s Sandinista. Timms is back on “Dora,” another country/folk-tinged ballad, and another reason I should be listening to this album much more regularly. (It’s no coincidence that I have two of her solo albums.) Next track, “Poxy Lips,” is a fun, fast number that sounds a bit like the Pogues gone Cajun.

The stylistic adventuring continues with the slower, folky (with synths) “(Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian,” which incorporates a bit of a tropical feel in the guitar line. “Fantastic Voyage” is a rockier, driving tune, which sounds (am I really saying this?) a bit like the anthemic ’80s rockers like Big Country and U2. It’s back to the islands, again with a hint of Poguesiness, for “Robin Hood.” Then Timms is back for a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Heart of Stone,” played straight. “Maverick” is a more upbeat tune with big backing vocals alternating with the male vocal lead, for an almost country gospel feel.

It seems a bit odd to end with songs called, respectively, “Vengeance” and “Revenge,” but that’s what happens. The former is a fiddle-driven folk song, while the latter again reminds me a bit of the Clash’s style-mashing on Sandinista, though Timms is singing again, on a rockin’ tune about, naturally, revenge.

So… overall, the album isn’t necessarily helped by the stylistic mishmash, any more than the aforementioned Sandinista was. There are many good songs but they don’t really cohere into something greater. On a few songs, I think the production sounds a bit dated, too.

But the highlights on this album are so damn good. I don’t know if I need to play this album a lot more or just start going through Mekons stuff to build a compilation of the best tunes, but I can’t go too long without listening to some of these songs again.

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