Review Summary: We know that for many years there's been no country here. Nothing here but the war.
When there’s nothing to distract us, we are sometimes forced to face the reality of ourselves. It can be harrowing, and, for the most part, we’re made to go it alone. The world can be grim, and sometimes it can sap you of all hope. Yesterday, I sat down with my bowl of cereal and ate while the T.V. talked at me. I heard, but pretended I didn’t. When I was finished, I washed out my bowl. Quietly, I made my way to my room, shut the door, and turned on the Mekon’s “Fear and Whiskey.”
This is a story of cold, lonely highways, quiet places, and the darker corners of the mind; of having just enough foresight to see to the next dim, flickering streetlight. “I was out late the other night,” Rico Bell croaks over a descending line of glistening keys as heart-wrenchingly stunning as an angel tumbling down the spiral stairs. “Fear and whiskey kept me going.” Susie Honeyman’s violin swirls the atmosphere like the doleful wail of a traincar piercing an otherwise silent night. It’s candid like a kiss on the cheek and slap on the face from a stranger.
Here there is no preaching, no pity, just pain and understanding. When Bell says its “Hard to be Human Again,” he’s speaking as much to himself as he is to us. Sharp power-chords, grooving dance rhythms, and sparse ho-down arrangements meld to form something unique yet not wholly unfamiliar. It’s inviting even at its most terrifying. The uneasy “Psycho Cupid” finds us in the middle of a young girl’s existential meltdown, never quite resolved. Sally Timms whispers into our ears, with a soft, brooding beauty, poetry that seems so natural it couldn’t have been invented.
“Fear and Whiskey” seems logical in context, a product of the veil of disillusionment Thatcherism cast upon Britain. Before the record was made, the band spent a year supporting the now infamous Miner’s Strike in mid-80s. They came away from the experience, much like the nation’s unions, battered and worn. Despite, or perhaps because of, these circumstances, the album has an incredible amount of universality. Rather than a leftist political statement, it’s a manifesto for the lost, the frightened, the bored, and the miserable. Yes, that means all of us.
Through the hopelessness, there is, undeniably, hope. “Last Dance” reminds us that, even if it’s disappeared on us before, love always returns. When “Lost Highway” comes around to close things off, we may not know quite where we’re going, but at least we’re going somewhere. Overwhelming humanity makes “Fear and Whiskey” the masterpiece that it is. There was power enough between the grooves of this record to help rekindle for me, in a time of need, my love and faith in people. Can anyone really ask for more?