Nearly three and half decades from The Mekons’ inception, the prolific British octet has dabbled in every genre from its roots in punk to American country, pop rock and English folk in its incredible 26-album discography. It’s been about four years since Natural, “the right gestation period for the Mekon animal,” said vocalist Sally Timms. The band returns with Ancient and Modern: 1911-2011, a shining example of manifold inspiration and aspiration.
Ancient and Modern plays out like a concept album, drawing parallels between the then and now, as the subtitle (1911-2011) suggests.
The album travels back in time a hundred years to England’s Edwardian era before the First World War and highlights historic events, such as the bombing of the L.A. Times building. The Mekons successfully gather inspiration from a century ago and make it valid in the modern age.
The album begins with lackadaisical acoustics in “Warm Summer Sun,” as it strums along with a sort of melancholic serenity into nightmarish visuals: “I look out on corpses, skeleton trees/an unimaginable hell in front of my eyes.” The second song quickly builds up momentum in the form of “Space In Your Face,” an energetic post-punk scorcher and one of the most easily accessible. These two first songs flow from lethargic to manic and demonstrate the album’s overall energy equilibrium.
“Geeshie” successfully captures the musical zeitgeist of the pre-WWI era. It summons images of elderly music halls and rickety pianos. Timms sings, “It is my intention to forget,” and, “Nothing happens twice,” an intriguing connection when compared with the album’s suggested theme of repetition in the cyclical nature of time.
The band’s ambitions culminate in the album’s grandiose, seven-minute title track, a concentration of theme and purpose. The three vocalists—Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Timms—team up for this divergent ballad spliced with spoken word and closed with a radiant and inspirational chant. It’s songs such as these that prove The Mekons are still paving their own way through the music world, and they’re better for it.
The Mekons’ Ancient & Modern is a solid, cohesive addition to a legendary band’s repertoire. Perhaps the two extremes of the album’s title would be more at home on a mobius strip than a straight timeline after all. Making music for a third of the century, The Mekons can say it better than most: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Mekons – Ancient & Modern: 1911-2011 tracklist:
- “Warm Summer Sun”
- “Space in Your Face”
- “I Fall Asleep”
- “Afar and Forlorn”
- “Honey Bear”
- “The Devil at Rest”
- “Arthur’s Angel”