Those mysterious masked Black Mekon brothers are back with their stripped back rock-and-rollercoaster sound on NEAT!. There are rumours that they are 9ft tall with gasoline for blood, or rock’n’roll androids who have escaped from a dystopian future, while other say they are part-human, part-drag-race-car. Whoever and whatever they are they are one of the most exhilarating bands I have ever heard.
NEAT! has been produced by Luke Reilly one of the PNKSLM label bosses and he has kept the scraped knees and gravel burn of the Mekons but given them a big beat make-over, dialling the bass frequencies and drums up by 110% to create a sonic battering that makes you feel like there’s a mosh pit happening inside your head. He says “I mostly did it for the money, but I also wanted to help create a Mekon record that doesn’t instantly make your ears bleed. This one’s probably 10% more listenable than the rest.“
Just passed the scratchy radio announcement of the opening track ‘Buhlak Me Kong’ is all you need to know about this album: frenetic drums and scuffed up vocals that are in the same register as an American evangelist, plus guitar that’s run through their own “Mekonizer” fuzz pedals. The title is also a clever play on words as this is the band name phonetically as well as being a bastardised version of ‘I love you’ in Filipino.
‘Heads Down’ is a flick-knife sharp riff with an euphoric chorus, ‘WC Bronx’ is the biggest of the big beat tracks on the album, and ‘Fresh Hell’ is a mash-up of the Bo Diddly beat combined with the giddy lyrical speed of R.E.M.’s ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’, all with bonus dirty harmonica. ‘Cheap Date, Expensive Drugs’ has a catnip chorus, ‘One By One’ is a glam-rockabilly joy, and ‘Phoneutria’ sounds like it was recorded underground in an earthquake.
Apart from the 180-bpm crowd-pleasing singalong of ‘Don’t Waste My Time’, the latter half of the album things slow down a little. On ‘Bob Hodges’ it’s been mixed to sound like it’s being played on an 78 wind-up gramophone, ‘The Man’ is a long-limbed swamp blues that moves along the ground along like a snake and ‘Piece of Strange’ is a juggernaut winding up a mountain path.
I was lucky enough to see Black Mekon at the PNKSLM 10th Anniversary concert in Stockholm in September and they are every bit as exhilarating live as they are on record. NEAT! is a tour de force, one of my albums of the year. If you have ever run down a steep hill, there’s always a point where your legs start going faster than you can sustain and you know you’re going to fall and start tumbling out of control. That’s where Black Mekon make their music. Megaphonic vocals, monolithic drums, Black Mekon are the best masked rock’n’roll band in the world. Testify!
Review by Paul F Cook