December 18, 1989 12:00 PM

The Mekons

An imagined conversation between Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford, leaders of the Mekons:

Jon: “Did you see these reviews? The critics are starting to like us. They think we’ve finally learned to play our instruments. They think our lyrics are brilliant.”

Tom: “They like us? Man, that’s a bad sign. We’d better annoy them again. We’d better ROCK AND ROLL!”

Even if a conversation like this never took place, one thing’s for sure: Somebody made a conscious decision to change the Mekons’ style. After starting out 12 years ago in Leeds, England, as a rebellious punk band with no musical training, the Mekons developed a brainy fusion of punk-pop-country music, best demonstrated on last year’s winning release So Good It Hurts. Now pared down to a combo of four men and two women with various “deputy Mekons” helping out, the iconoclastic band demolishes its own conventions. Gone are the country twang and the liner notes that used to explain literary references in the songs. All that seems to matter now is loud, aggressive rock and roll.

As a political statement, the Mekons’ foray into hard rock succeeds; they clearly show their solidarity with the forces of anarchy. As a musical project, the record fares less well. A Mekons fan can’t help but wish that they had offset their electrified mayhem with more of the lighter ballads and unusual story songs that made their last album such a pleasure.

Luckily the new style maintains some of the band’s best qualities. The lead vocals, particularly on the album’s one gentle number, “When Darkness Falls,” play with an enchanting dichotomy—the gravel-voiced Langford vs. the sweet tones of Sally Timms. Neatly crafted as ever, the lyrics broadcast loud and clear the band’s typical irony and rebellious in-your-face attitude.

“Empire of the Senseless,” the album’s best cut, takes an underhand swipe at those involved in the current thrust for art and music censorship. Sarcastic lyrics include the claim, “This song promotes homosexuality.” The song ends defiantly: “All unacceptable gropings have been removed from this groove/ Only eyes full of unspeakable thoughts remain.” Are you listening, Jesse Helms? (A&M)

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