November 26, 2004
Back in the mid ‘80s Sally Timms made a strange and wonderful contribution to punk rock.
Before Timms hooked up with The Mekons, most female punk vocals was virtually limited to the Wendy O. Williams growl, the Exene whine or the Joan Jett snarl.
Timms added a whole new dimension: Subversive beauty.
Her warm, honey-toned voice was -- and still is -- nothing short of heart-breaking. Not to mention jarring when the lyrics she sang were harsh and acidic.
In recent years, Timms' solo work, that that of fellow Mekon Jon Langford, mainly has been in the country-folk genre -- her 1999 album Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments For Lost Buckaroos being the best example.
But with her new work In the World of Him, a nine-song EP, Timms branches out produced by genius weirdo Johnny Dowd and his musical sidekick Justin Asher.
Dowd‘s musical backdrops range from crazed proto-techno soundscapes (the opening tune Langford‘s “Sentimental Marching Song”) to somber folk (Ryan Adams‘ “Fools We Are As Men,” on which Timms is backed by just an acoustic guitar and accordion.)
Except for the final song, “Little Tommy Tucker,” which she wrote herself, the songs of In the World of Him are written by men - Adams, Dowd, Langford, Mark and Kevin Coyne. Shey also revamps a couple of classic Mekons songs, “Corporal Chalkie” and one of her signature songs, “Bomb,” in the sputtering quacky Dowd style.
It’s almost an answer to those patronizing politically-correct “women in rock” thumb sucker essays that pop up every few years in music journalism. Timms is after the male perspective here. And, doggone it, there are some fine male songwriters out there.
The best songs on Him are Coyne’s “I’m Just a Man,” a slow, pretty melody -- perfect for Sally’s voice -- rising above a clunky percussion track and Eitzel’s “God’s Eternal Love,” one of the darkest tunes ever penned by this unrepentant purveyor of darkness. Timms captures the disturbing spirit of the song. Timms croons “and your death is only the key to the future/ and your children are just pigs/ they will roast …” over an acoustic guitar with what sounds like an electrical storm in the background.
But not all is darkness here. The funniest song on Him is Dowd’s “139 Hernalser Gurtel” which sounds like a war song written by Kurt Weil obsessed with pornography and tripping on acid.
“In the world of him/girly men waltz sweetly/across the borders of skin/latex icons line the shelves /
Finally, someone captures the male perspective.
Speaking of Johnny Dowd: I reviewed his latest album Cemetery Shoes late last April after it had been out on the Dutch label Munich Records, thinking it would come out on an American label fairly soon. Actually, it didn’t get released in this country until about a month ago on the tiny Bongo Beat label
And you can read my review on my blog, in the April archives.(CLICK HERE then scroll down just a little.)
*Heaven & Hell by The Mekons. Amazingly, even though The Mekons have been around in one form or another for more than a quarter century, nobody until now has compiled a “greatest hits” collection.
If you’ve read all the way through a review of a Sally Timms CD -- and indeed if you’ve read my music rants for any time -- chances are you don’t need an explanation of who The Mekons are.
But if you’re an average American and just a casual rock ’n’ roll fan, you’re probably part of the 99 percent of the unfortunate deprived and uninformed masses who have never known Mekon pleasure. So for you, here’s a quick history:
The Mekons started out in the late ‘70s in Leeds, England, originally becoming notorious for their 1978 song “Never Been To a Riot,” a send-up of The Clash’s “White Riot.”
By the mid ‘80s original members Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh led a reconfigured Mekons with a new sound that stole any sound not nailed to the floor -- country music, reggae, eventually acid house and other styles. They added a fiddler, Susie Honeyman, an accordion player, Rico Bell, and a singer named Sally. They sang socialist screeds, songs of drunkenness and depravity and ballads of doomed love. Critics loved them. Record companies screwed them. The public ignored them.
Heaven & Hell is a double-disc collection that just might be the perfect introduction for the uninitiated. It goes all the way back to their punk origins with songs like “Never Been To a Riot,” and “This Sporting Life,” their ill-fated but still glorious stab at commercial success “Memphis Egypt” and more recent gems like the fierce rocking “The Olde Trip to Jerusalem” and Timms’ gorgeous “Millionaire.”
And there’s four songs from out of print So Good It Hurts as well as selections from Eps, singles, etc.
Of course I’m still going to grumble about a couple of omissions. How dare they omit “Cast No Shadow” from Journey to the End of the Night or “The Flame That Killed John Wayne” or “The Ballad of Sally” ?
Of course these oversights will be initiative for the millions of new Mekons fans to seek out the original albums.