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Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2002



Mekons: "OOOH!"

Many bands will admit to being politically minded, but the Mekons are one of the few who put their politics ahead of their music. It's not so much that the band, formed by art students in Leeds, England, in the late '70s, want to advance an agenda, but rather that they believe art and commerce are inseparable from politics. The band exists not to make money or to cater to an audience. They exist because work is a noble thing, and music (as well as painting, writing and sculpting) is the work they do. Comradeship is more important than the pursuit of excellence. So while the Mekons have enjoyed a long history, their prodigious output has been both stylistically fluid and spotty in quality.

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But that doesn't mean the Mekons don't occasionally produce something brilliant. Mekons-watchers have hailed the band's latest record, "OOOH!," as their best in more than a decade, citing last year's terrorist attacks as a referent on which the group's diverse talents focused. But the real focus seems to be a traveling Mekons art show that predated Sept. 11, 2001. The show's theme was the human head (the title of the record is an acronym for "Out Of Our Heads") and most of the songs are about heads: heads as repositories for ideas, as physical artifacts, as political metaphors, especially when they're no longer attached to bodies.

Politically, you can't get more focused than "Hate Is the New Love," which posits the obvious but generally unspoken idea that "everyday is a battle, and how we love the war." In the searing folk song "Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem," leader John Langford leads a spirited chorus that leaves the idea of righteous crusading splayed and skinned: "All that march through history must mean something to you/Roar reason, roar in power again."

"OOOH!" ably reflects the group's 25-year absorption of everything from punk to Anglo folk to country & western. Once the epitome of irreverent art-rockers who couldn't care less about craft, the Mekons have become polished despite themselves. Excellence in intent now translates as excellence in execution, though the group's revolving membership rejects praise. Excellence is nothing more than a happy accident when you've got work to do.

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