When the first chords of Lawrence Of California blast out of the speakers, it’s enough to make you believe there might be a deity. Some forty minutes later, when the album squeals and shrieks to an end, it’s beyond doubt. Yes, the Mekons are back, bringing cosmic country, noise, lyrical obscurity and a Bowie tribute/deconstruction that begins with Iggy Pop getting a bag of sand from a Berlin vending machine. There’s a track (How Many Stars – it’s on this issue’s fRoots 72) that walks a fine line between bleak, twisted folk and country and, oh yes, some fine, fine rock’n’roll.
It’s also sonically one of the best-sounding and most detailed Mekons albums, thanks to new(ish) bass player and producer Dave Trumfio, whose studio in the California desert was the scene for the sessions. Without even trying, it’s a disc that goes its own way, quite naturally obtuse, beholden to no trend, style, or genre; they’ve long since moved beyond that. Which makes Weimar Vending Machine stand out, with sections where voices and keyboards deliberately call up echoes of Hunky Dory. For all that, it’s not a song that Bowie could have dreamed of writing.
But that’s the anomaly, as Mirage proves they still have that connection to their mid-pace punk roots, and Andromeda harks back to their country’n’terror years. It’s not a summing up, by any means. It’s another step forward for a band that’s spent more than four decades never standing still. There’s plenty of life in them yet – and being on Glitterbeat in Europe means people can buy this without taking out a new mortgage. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Drink the Kool Aid, join the cult.