MEKONS Fear And Whiskey (Cooking Vinyl)

The Mekons’ 1985 album is often considered a country-punk landmark, and although there are elements of both genres present, frequently simultaneously, they don’t really coagulate seamlessly in the manner of some other hyphenated hybrids. Yes, there’s the wilful amateurishness of punk and some prominent fiddlin’, but there’s little that’s obviously Ole Opry about “Fear And Whiskey”.

The opening title track makes for one of the album’s most affecting moments, modelling the kind of well-intentioned drunken lurch its name suggests, wobbly vocals prizing emotion over technical accuracy. “Trouble Down South” seems retrofittable for the imperialist crusade of your choice: “Oh President Oh CIA why must we be punished for crimes we did not commit?” lament the sleevenotes, and Robert Christgau has described the album as a concept work about life during wartime. The arresting, uncertain narrative “Psycho Cupid (Danceband On The Edge Of Time)”, seemingly mixing childhood reminiscences with snapshots from an adulthood of vagrancy, is described as “part two of the Mekons’ ongoing social surrealist soap opera”. I’ve often mistaken the introduction to “Country” for something contemporaneous by The Fall, and “Last Dance” is another poignant, emotive moment, albeit refracted through the bottom of a glass. Closing with a cover of the country standard “Lost Highway” at least tries to make the connection explicit.

“Fear And Whiskey” could be described as edgy, anarchist, protest country-punk, which boxes it neatly into a fairly narrow genre. Crude, hamfisted and confusing as some of it sounds, it certainly has its moments.