Released in 1985, Fear and Whiskey is credited as the album that began the alt-country marketing category. True or not, it shouldn't be held against one of the greatest records ever. The Mekons were one of the most loved and hated bands on the late-'70s/early-'80s punk scenes in England. In 1984 they began touring with drummer Steve Goulding (Graham Parker & the Rumour) and bassist Lu Edmonds (PIL, Damned), who joined John Langford, Tom Greenhalgh, and Kevin Lycett. To record Fear and Whiskey they added fiddler Suzie Honeyman and guitarist Dick Taylor. The original disc was issued on the band's own Sin Records to much ballyhoo by critics like Greil Marcus. A few years later, Rough Trade reissued it with a few EPs added and called it Original Sin. This version is the original, completely remastered by the band. Musically Fear and Whiskey is awash in the delirium of the Reagan and Thatcher '80s. Country melodies collide into reggae rhythms and drones to create a forlorn tale in "Trouble Down South"; the title track is pure Hank hillbilly with lyrics that may not be as simple and poetic but do the job, as the tune creates a base from which to pick up the bottle or dance. But it's not all country and roots, unless those roots still include the dynamic of shambolic punk rock, which is the core of "Hard to Be Human Again." Despite its country melody line, which falls apart constantly, the guitars blare and falter, the drums pound on needlessly, and the band cavorts the tune like it's the end of the gig and it only track three. Seriously, there isn't a song on this disc that Langford and Greenhalgh don't turn into some epic repudiation of capitalism, depersonalization, greed, and social engineering. The fact is, these serious topics are dealt with in a piss-take way to music that carries everything from honky tonk, hillbilly, rockabilly, reggae, punk rock, and folk melodies all entwined with each other in a myriad of ways so complex, so drunkenly passionate, you just have to laugh -- as you dance, that is. A bona fide classic.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek