Thursday, 17 July 2014

Mex - Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde (2014)

Mex is one of those best kept secrets you always hear about, although he really shouldn't be, and it seems typically ironic that whilst his best work has yet to set any mainstream chart ablaze, you've almost certainly heard him on something at some point given his session and studio work dating back to at least the first version of Wham Rap! by Andrew Ridgeley and the other feller. I myself first encountered the music of Mex when he cropped up on a cassette compilation put out by the Cause For Concern tape label. I hadn't long discovered that whole early eighties DIY tape scene, and I'd dived in with such enthusiasm as to have lost track of what was going on in the world of regular music with its coloured vinyl and Susan Tully dressing up like Boy George. My corner of the ferric oxide universe was a fairly noisy one populated by Cultural Amnesia and their ilk, so Mex came along as something of a breath of fresh air, independent, home-made, and yet definitely the sort of pop music you need when you're a teenager - so breezy as to make Haircut 100 sound like Kleistwahr. I bought the single Happy Life, which still rates as one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded to these ears, and then I bought the tapes.

Both Alternative Pop Music and Intense Living - which should be considered the first two Mex albums, with this one as the third - are low-fi for economic rather than aesthetic reasons, but even with the occasional muddy mix or duff note or the rhythm of what sounds like a Bontempi organ, I played those fuckers to death, and I can still sing the songs even now despite my copies of the cassettes being presently interred within a cardboard box on a different continent.

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde is, as I say, the third album, which is exactly what it sounds like, rather than a comeback in consideration of the thirty year gap. Whatever magic he was working back then remains patently undiminished, and this time the songs benefit from all those intervening years of experience and a beautifully crisp production. The Mex himself was apparently a little nervous about what sort of response this collection would receive, which is understandable given that I was myself a little nervous about listening to it for fear of the possibility of it being some grizzled old bloke reviving past glories and ending up resembling Creme Brulee's Les McQueen from The League of Gentlemen.

It's a shit business...

Happily such fears are proven entirely unfounded, even should be considered blown away by the opening bars of Angry Man which, whilst being unmistakably Mex, peculiarly also invokes the rockier end of Nine Inch Nails and even Jim Thirlwell since he packed in the grunting and growling and took to singing once more. Being Mex, there's a Beatley element, maybe a trace of Kinks with the more tuneful hundreds and thousands of the punk rock cake sprinkled over the top, but nothing that renders the occasional saxophone or trumpet solo too incongruous - kitchen sink psychedelia maybe, or something along those lines. The tunes, sombre as they may be in a few cases, work their way under your skin like the very best of Beck or Blur or whoever else once dealt in this sort of bitter-sweet pop; except this album, against all the odds, bears no trace of nostalgia or recaptured glories. The material is too strong, too confident for that, even pausing to give the listener a thoughtful neck rub at the halfway mark with the sadly poignant Think About It.

By rights We Don't Speak The Same Language Anymore should be a hit of such magnitude that we're all thoroughly sick of hearing it before the year is out, but then by rights some boutique vinyl label should be battering down Mex's door for permission to reissue his entire back catalogue. I'm not sure if either of these are likely to happen, but then again I never expected a 2014 Mex album to sound anything like this good. Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde is, excuse my French, fucking gorgeous, a perfect pop record. Full marks also for the presentation, one of those screwy jet black compact discs upon which the label side is printed so as to resemble a tiny vinyl album.

Don't just sit there. Buy it!

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