2014 has thusfar resounded to the sound of long hiatuses coming to noisy, and much talked-about ends: forget The Stone Roses, or even Guns’n’Roses; Pixies released their first LP since 1991, the acclaimed Indie Cindy; whilst Kate Bush announced her second string of live dates since her groundbreaking 1979 European tour. The pre-order for the ‘new’ Pink Floyd album, The Endless River is open… And whilst this might signal the rude heath of art rock per se, Mex may be less the household name, outside of studio personnel circles. Nonetheless, his 2014 album, Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde ends an in-studio silence, at least under his own name as singer-songwriter, but one year short of Bush‘s onstage one. Aided and abetted by a talented cast of collaborators including bassist Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree/Ex Wise Heads), guitarist, Gordon Russell (Dr Feelgood), visual artist, Nick Egan (Clash, Ramones, Alanis Morissette) and avant-garde poet, Bernadette Cremin, he presents an engaging album of intermittently angry and lovelorn – though ultimately uplifting and cathartic – emotionally-charged pop/rock.
A concept album of sorts, …Jekyll… is nonetheless miles from the overwrought prog indulgence of The Wall or …Topographic Oceans, rather more akin to the wilful eclecticism and compelling grooves of David Holmes Bow Down To The Exit Sign or Typewriter‘s Skeleton Key. Albeit as otherworldly as neither, and refusing to venture as far from conventional song structures, there’s the same sense of a single guiding creative light, similar wild mood swings between fuzzed-out dirty pub-blues ditties and cool, effects-laden atmospheres.
Mex‘s often heavily-FX’d vocals – pitched somewhere between Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) and Nick Barrett (Pendragon) – tell the story of a love affair gone awry, with attendant reflections on age, alienation, regret and possibilities. The pace of the album is perfectly-judged, making it an easy, even fun listen. Occasional lapses into lyrical cliché, far from being a detraction, reflect the album’s confessional style (the lyrics were drawn from the performer’s diary during a period in therapy). In an age where singles reign supreme, it’s a joy to land on a body of work that deserves beginning-to-end listener attention. There’s a good reason why the album is a dying art-form; and I see no mileage in being a fuddy-duddy about that; it’s a trend that opens as many doors as it closes: equally, it’s satisfying to hear said form being handled so deftly and respectfully.
Some cuts stand out, though: From Nought To Sixty mixes snappy punk riffing with mature reflection; Think About It sets poet Cremin‘s ‘angel on the shoulder’ conversational tones to Edwin‘s bass groove to great effect, and Catching A Train has a pleasing whiff of Psychedelic Fur. Mex is an exponent of the punk days, but this is an album that could only have been come to fruition in 2014, incorporating well-judged references from intervening years: from shades of artful and more emotionally-literate post-punk à la Furs and Bunnymen to the neo-diy facilitated by affordable digital home-recording technology: the quality of the songwriting now shines thru, rather than musters out; even cheeky stabs of squawking sax (Everybody Has A Book Inside) enhance rather than come off as ’90s cheesy.
You can purchase the full album here.