Oh, what a joyous cacophony of sound is this! In over 20 albums since they formed up in the late 1970s in Leeds, the premier punk rock/country and western/dub/EDM collective the Mekons have resolutely stuck to their guns, giving not a whit about the fashions of the day, traveling down musical pathways, smashing things up a bit, and then heading down the road. This time Jon Langford and crew ended up near Joshua Tree in California, a bunch of socialist punks adrift in the American desert, and the result is every bit as strong a record as 1985’s Fear and Whiskey or Honky Tonkin’ from 1987.
Starting off with “Lawrence of California”, all the hallmarks of the Mekons sound are apparent – rampaging guitars, strident vocals and above it all, the heavenly sound of Susie Honeyman’s fiddling. “Harar 1883” follows, a message from Arthur Rimbaud from Ethiopia – “I wrap my scarf around my head/tight against the desert dread”. “Into the Sun” reminds you of the early Mekons, with pogoing guitar and bass ala Gang of Four with dollops of synth adding a dance touch. A lovely bit of country follows, Mekons-style with “How Many Stars” – “Captain, captain tell me true/Does my sweet William ride with you” atop a leisurely loping tempo and Honeyman’s violin.
Deserted is all the strengths of the Mekons writ large. Being surrounded by acres of nothing but the sand and spooky trees of the California desert suits them, giving no distraction, your mind is able to ramble and wander, and few groups have been as relentless in exploration as the Mekons. I mean, how many others could have a song such as “Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?” which lazily begins with Iggy Pop buying a bag of sand in Berlin and ends up as a homage (maybe?) to Mark E. Smith, leader of The Fall who died in January of 2018. Or not. Who knows? Nothing in the career of the Mekons has made any sense to anyone but themselves- the listener takes from them whatever appeals in the moment, and if you don’t like it, stick around, because they are going to change it up again next song. And that, my friends, is genius.