The high Californian desert is steeped in rock history. This is where country-rock icon Gram Parsons had his corpse cremated by friends; where an Irish band came up with a name and cover image for a great LP; where Jim Morrison dropped acid and made a movie. Now the Mekons – those wacky, scholarly and beloved British punk-country-reggae-rock survivors – are joining the procession with Deserted. Recorded near Joshua Tree, the LP gets lost in the wilderness and finds timely survival metaphors everywhere. And it sinks deep into desert mythology without invoking any of the antiquated tales above (they’ve already paid homage to Bono, after all).
Instead, they conjure up visions of a swashbuckling Peter O’Toole riding a camel on “Laurence of California”. They quote Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” on “In The Desert,” expanding their punk-poet ancestor’s meditation on the collapse of the empire to a more recent story (premium quote: “My name is Blank / Une creature of Bush and Blair / Darkness and Despair. ”) And they invoke Arthur Rimbaud’s final temptation upside down through the Somali desert in“ Harar 1883, ”with Everyman Tom Greenhalgh chirp channeling the voice of a another great poet who threw in the towel to distribute coffee in Ethiopia – more than a century before the internet art economy once again brought out intelligent career development
As always on Mekons records, there is some sinister humor. “Weimar Vending Machine” makes puns (“Iggy appears in Berlin”) in a delicious tribute to Bowie who greets the heart of darkness with gusts of Eno-esque synths, alcoholic screams of “the priest is gone!” And a laundry list of delusional end-time visions: “Mankind whines, footprints stretch / Across ragged meadows bloom in circles of sex / a snake’s eye blinks and darkens / A bubbling cauldron of lonely sad beans / A dirty waistcoat. ” (Hey, at least there’s sex.) As bad as things seem, beauty, especially in the natural world, wins out over time. “How Many Stars” takes the classic form of an English folk song about a man lost at sea and a woman dying of a broken heart, the group marveling at the protective sky in jagged, sympathetic harmony. And “After The Rain” offers a promise of post-apocalyptic rebirth, where we could arm ourselves against ruthless habitats and perhaps evolve into more appropriate forms: us after the rain. It is the flowering desert and its inhabitants as a testimony of resilience, summoned by a crew of joyful marauders who have embodied resilience for more than four decades. Things might look more fucked up than ever, but why stop now?