The Mekons

So Good It Hurts

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The stylistic wanderlust of the Mekons, which led them though punk, synth pop, and country, took them on a detour into world music on 1988's So Good It Hurts, in which the bandmembers dipped their toes into reggae and Caribbean sounds, though there's more than a little rock & roll left in the formula, and as always the results sound just like the Mekons. They have always reveled in the emotional dissonance of rootlessness and dislocation, and So Good It Hurts finds the Mekons pondering cultural and social identity as they look to the shadows of America, ponder the fate of Fletcher Christian, embrace the multi-leveled rebellion of Robin Hood and his Merry Men (who, as the liner notes remind us, were likely gay), and wallow in the financial and personal wreckage of the U.K. Miners' Strike. In the midst of all this, the deep basslines of dub and the one-drop snap of the drums merely add another filter to the overall picture of distance and ambivalence, though it's worth noting that the Mekons take to reggae like ducks to water, and this is perhaps the tightest and best-focused album the group released in the 1980s. (Sally Timms also belts out a great version of the Rolling Stones chestnut "Heart of Stone"). Unfortunately, while the band is in fine fettle and the material is intelligent, So Good It Hurts is never as immediately engaging as either of the albums that immediately preceded (Honky Tonkin') or immediately followed it (Rock 'n' Roll), both of which rank with the Mekons' very best; this is well worth a listen, especially for the group's fans, but it's still a good album from a band that was taking a break in between great ones.

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