Mekons - "Burning In The Desert Burning" (Natural)
At this point in the game, the Mekons hardly seem to be in a hurry. They’ve been around for 30 years, and Natural is their first album of new songs in five. This unhurried quality has settled into their songs, both in the way they were developed and the way they grow on you; Natural is a pretty swell album, but it takes a rather long time for its qualities to emerge.
The record’s 12 songs were developed during two junkets into the English countryside; in the meantime, the music spent 18 months being polished on multi-instrumentalist Lu Edmonds’ home computer. This is hardly the sort of process that imbues performances with urgency, and if you’re looking for a song that’ll jump out of the speakers, steal your drink, and run out the back door with a mad laugh like “Hard To Be Human” or “Big Zombie” or “Memphis Egypt,” you won’t find it here. The closest they come to an anthem is “Burning in the Desert Burning,” a bleak yet stirring meditation on ephemeral prosperity and eternal hatred in the Middle East that they saw fit to bury halfway through the album.
With at least four band members swapping lead vocals, it all feels quite communal, and the recurrent natural and rural images make the record feel like a gathering of old friends who set up ‘round the flickering light of a laptop screen rather than a campfire, chipping in with lines and licks. Lonely harmonicas, keening fiddles, plinking kalimbas, and vaguely dubby drums twist in and out of the interwoven vocals, their melodies like ivy vines climbing a fence; the lyrics grow on you just as slowly, requiring several close listens before they start giving up their secrets.
Which is a bit of a shame, because tunes like “Diamonds” and “The Hope and the Anchor” are as defiant and thoughtful as anything the Mekons have ever done, and deserve to be heard beyond the persistent and faithful.