Leeds Icons Sell Out Garden; Get Out of This World Alive

The Headline Above Is a Lie

Hen's Teeth—two collections of outtakes, alternates, and B-sides—appear as a mixed signal. Such things get issued either when a band is stuck and wants to squeeze some dollars from the troops to tide it over, or by way of a last wave from the ocean surface before it clambers down to Davy Jones's locker. The cover photos, though, show lively Mekons cavorting merrily onstage within the last year or so, and at least one number (a properly hypnotic cover of the Kinks' raga-drone "Fancy") is brand new. The first volume actually manages to be the best Mekons album in ages, doing justice to all facets of their complex personality. It's been in heavy rotation on my CD player for months now, although I note that the two best numbers, the propulsive "Orpheus" and the quietly devastating "Now We Have the Bomb," both derive from the 1996 CD-book package United, which I couldn't afford to buy (and which, ironically enough, I only ever saw for sale at the anarchist bookstore on Avenue B). Other first rate tracks, such as the typically rueful Greenhalgh number "Cowboy Boots" and the patented Timms faux-confession "The Ballad of Sally," seem to have simply been cast overboard in the late 1980s, when they were writing so many great songs there wasn't enough vinyl in the world to contain them.

So does Hen's Teeth represent a final garage sale of unclaimed artifacts? Is this, he gasped, the end of the Mekons? Being a fan of the Mekons has always entailed some identification with their story, which is a story of self-invention but lacks those other Horatio Algerian qualities, notably piety and material success. It does involve continually being knocked down and getting back up again (insert Chumbawamba reference here)—not exactly masochism, or at least no more than every body's workaday masochism. The Mekons have brought poetry, sexiness, and panache to the theme of getting by and making do, an adult theme if there ever was one and an appropriate development from the anti-glam our self-determination of 1977. Given that the prevailing myth these days concerns the effort less acquisition of insane wealth, with the corollary that anyone without money is dirt, those of us who are dirt and fated to remain that way can appreciate having a pop group to call our own, as a kind of home team. That said, you can't exactly blame the Mekons for wishing to win enough of a prize in the pop sweep stakes to live on and continue working. With rents being what they are, we may be witnessing the end of bohemia as we've known and loved it for 170-odd years; the Hobson's choice between day job and mass appeal will confront everyone sooner or later. But even furthest down on their luck, the Mekons have never broached self-pity. They've cursed and muttered and cracked jokes and prophesized, and done all these things rollicking and roaring. Their failure has come to look triumphant, and never more so than in the current climate of vile success.

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