The Mekons 77 – It is Twice Blessed

From their origins at the University of Leeds’ art school, the Mekons have fashioned themselves as an artist collective. It Is Twice Blessed extends this notion to a new (old) level. The original six celebrated their 40th anniversary in the English countryside last summer by woodshedding some new songs. With minimal fanfare the results have been issued under the Mekons 77 moniker, the group going so far as to set up a separate (but linked) website to draw a distinction between the legacy and go-forward units. It’s almost certainly not a rights issue, given the troupe’s longstanding anti-capitalist stance.

The cover artwork consciously references that of 1979 debut album The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, which also serves as Twice Blessed’s musical and spiritual antecedent. It would be silly to expect this lineup to have remained frozen in time stylistically, however. The Mekons rather famously shifted gears after a brief hiatus with 1984’s Hank Williams-inflected classic Fear and Whiskey and despite plenty of evolution and countless detours, the roots of today’s ongoing band of merrymakers can be traced to that configuration. Often lost in the narrative, though, is the fact that the v1.0 punk primitives had already morphed in their own right, pivoting toward dense and abstract synth-driven pieces by the early ’80s.

These Mekons sound more muscular and sure-handed than their 40-years-ago selves, particularly in the rhythm section – or perhaps they simply have access to better recording gear. This is somewhat surprising given that at least half the band abandoned music performance ages ago, though it may also explain their ability to preserve a DIY feel. The only constants across lineups are guitarist Tom Greenhalgh (who adds occasional vocals in both iterations) and present-day frontman Jon Langford, who moves behind the drum kit and cedes the mic for Mekons 77. (Kevin Lycett soldiered on for portions of the ’80s, but eventually left the fold.)

Although hints of the later-day Mekons roots influences seep in – as well as the dub reggae that spans both eras – the prevailing theme here is buzzing guitars, simple riffs and chanted repetition-with-a-purpose. Boomerang vocalist Mark White deploys a quintessentially British, craggy rant that sounded wizened beyond his years back in the day and hasn’t changed much since. It’s a quite different kettle of fish, but an effective one.

The hands-down standout is “Still Waiting,” a lyrical sequel to the Mekons’ seminal 1978 single “Where Were You,” bringing back the girl with yellow hair pined for in the original and declaring “we’re still here!” while reciting a litany of social grievances unresolved since 1977. The urgent “In the Red” is nearly as good, and the group’s political fury hasn’t receded – as best evidenced on the Trump-directed “You Lied To Us” and the more globally pointed “Borders.”

It Is Twice Blessed feels intentionally low stakes, more a document of a weekend among friends than an ambitious comeback effort. It’s hardly an ideal entry point, but those smitten with the Mekons’ winding path – particularly its early portion – will find enough to enjoy here.

The Mekons 77
It Is Twice Blessed
[Slow Things]