Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mekons, Fear and Whiskey

Although the likes of Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs loved their early albums, the Mekons 'most widely admired work eight years after they convened in punk-era Leeds was still the 1978 single "Where Were You?" It wasn't until 1985's Fear and Whiskey, self-released on their U.K.-only Sin label back when imports were hard to find, that their legend launched worldwide. Susie Honeyman's fiddle was enough to slot the album as what was then called roots-rock, and put it at the forefront of what was later called alt-country. But in retrospect, Fear and Whiskey just sounds like a Mekons record--one driven by Tom Greenhalgh's desperate cry rather than Jon Langford's sarcastic shout or Steve Goulding's motorvating drums. What Greenhalgh is desperate about is a literally revolutionary scenario in which the government has routed rebels who swear they'll regroup but find themselves bogged down in alcoholic angst on a highway that's lost the way a beachhead is lost. Facing up to the failure of a punk idealism crippled, like the rest of public life, by the reactionary cruelty of the Thatcher and Reagan regimes, the Mekons had begun their lifelong project of keeping rock & roll leftism alive.

Wondering Sound, April 11, 2011