Thursday, 6 November 2014

Mex - Alternative Pop Music (1980)

A few months back I suggested that by rights some boutique vinyl label should be battering down Mex's door for permission to reissue his entire back catalogue. Well apparently that didn't happen, so here we are with Alternative Pop Music once again available from the label which first put it out all those years ago.

Older readers may recall my recently enthusing about Mex's current album -  Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde in case you haven't yet bothered to stop him and buy one - whilst waxing in a vaguely lyrical tone about its predecessors and lamenting the fact of my copies being presently stuck in a cardboard box on a different continent thus making it quite difficult for me to listen to them. When this turned up in the mail - in both shiny faux-vinyl compact disc and highly collectible cassette formats - I experienced a natural moment of fear that it might not be so good as remembered.

Mex was amongst a small number of DIY types whom I first discovered on home produced mail order cassette at the age of sixteen, a key point at which I suddenly understood punk rock, weirdy music, and all the exciting associated possibilities of the medium. Mex is distinguished as one of the people whose work I actually played a lot, like you would play that record you just bought, the one which had you wobbling with anticipation for at least a month in advance and which had just turned up at your nearest WHSmiths or wherever. I may have flapped my long coat and muttered darkly about the latest important recordings of Test Dept or Mnemonik Korpse Brigade, but at home I was hammering those Mex tapes.

Momentarily listening with an objective ear, I am of course fully aware that these songs appear to have been recorded on a humble four-track of some kind; and that the rhythm section alternates between what sounds like Bontempi organ presets and those tapes of studio-recorded drum tracks you used to be able to buy from the back pages of the music paper, and tapes which in this case had been played a few times by the sound of them; and that the keyboard sounds a lot like a Casio job; and that Mex himself never quite appeared to settle on a vocal style with which he was happy on this tape, so the singing sounds a little odd in places; and there are false starts, mistakes, bars where the guitar struggles to catch up with everything else. None of this comes as a surprise because I'm so familiar with this group of songs that it seems weird to consider how many years have passed since I last heard them. Even at the time it was obvious that Mex was finding his way on this first cassette, and that's part of what made it sound so great, at least for me. This was immediately recognisable as pop music, but it was our version, and therefore distinct from all that pastel coloured hairdresser crap on the telly. Whispers in the Night, Into the Eyes, The Valley of Mystery, Evil Creature and the rest - played with the wind blowing in a certain direction, they make Katrina & the Waves sound like Fudge Tunnel.

I've often thought of Mex as a sort of underground version of Haircut 100, which is partially the breezy acoustic guitar pop aspect of the Happy Life era songs, but is more just a coincidence of timing. Alternative Pop Music could be lazily compared to anything from a cheerier Joy Division to the less broody end of psych-garage with a bit of Motown thrown in there somewhere, played and produced with fewer basic amenities than such points of reference might suggest. It's probably just me, but for something that may as well have been recorded in the cupboard under the sink, Alternative Pop Music has a big sound, and if you listen closely, maybe you'll hear it too.

Now can we have Intense Living?

Alternative Pop Music is available here.

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