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MEX ALTERNATIVE POP MUSIC… from 1980 & into the 21st century

After a thirty year hiatus from his last recording being released, Mex returns with an album Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde, telling tales of dysfunctional human relationships, where angst and the dark collide.
The album features guest performers including Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin, and ex-Dr Feelgood Gordon Russell amongst others, helping create a new Mex twenty-first century sound that echoes the past, yet is older and wiser… perhaps?


Wax Cylinders of Excitement

Review by Lawrence Burton, July 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!


thefatoldman.blogspot.co.uk


Music, Bugs and Gender

Review by Andy Morton, October 2014

2014 has thus far 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 health 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 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 through, rather than musters out; even cheeky stabs of squawking sax (Everybody Has A Book Inside) enhance rather than come off as ’90s cheesy.


musicbugsandgender.wordpress.com


Hiroshima Yeah!

Reviewed in Issue 114, August 2014

Here's a nicely packaged CD which is the first release in 31 years (!) from Paul Mex, who has previously been mentioned in these pages due to a couple of his old songs appearing on The Thing from the Crypt compilation LP (see HY!#99). My spies (Secret Squirrel and Undercover Elephant) tell me that "he's worked as a producer/sound engineer with mainstream chart success sometimes" and you can kinda TELL, as this is very well recorded (partly at ABBEY ROAD!) and played. The actual songs are pretty good too, especially From Nought to Sixty, Everybody Has a Book Inside (marred only slightly by some cheesy sax) and Think About it, which features spoken word narration from Bernadette Cremin.


Southwark Mental Health News

Reviewed in Issue 125, September 2014

‘Mex’ is the nom de plume of Watford's Paul H, who in his capacity as a record producer has had a string of mainstream hits. This tastefully packaged and eccentrically eclectic CD is Mex's first solo album since 1982's Intense Living, which as was an underground convention back then was released as a limited edition cassette.


Paul says of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde: "The album is primarily about my recent trials and tribulations and formed from all the notes written during my therapy sessions after having a breakdown. The very last track is actually about suicide. It was cathartic getting it out that way and could be argued was another form of therapy within itself." And while this record is neither as mad as most that find their way into this publication nor up there with Joy Division in the misery stakes, there's a distinct sense of working through issues running through these twelve songs, particularly in terms of personal relationship struggles.


As you'd expect from a man behind the controls for numerous hit singles and from the fact that some of this record was recorded at Abbey Road, the sound is slick, professional and contemporary, with a cast of able session musicians including guitarists Louise Flenley and Gordon Russell. But it's not without its quirks and rough edges. The opening track Angry Man has a garage-glam feel to it, with an infectious bouncy beat, buzzing analog synth, and a catchy, drily funny chorus which goes: "I'm an angry man, don't give a damn/ Modern life is such a sham/ Gonna slaughter you like a lamb." Elsewhere, the music ventures into more soulful territory, with the penultimate track Catching a Train's percussive keyboard riff and radio-friendly swagger recalling 1980s fluffy pop acts like Duran Duran.


What strikes me most about this record is how full of ear-worms it is. Snippets of tunes, hook-lines, words here and there keep appearing in my head at the most unexpected moments. Ear-worms can sometimes be irritating. Once I couldn't get ‘Boogie Nights’ by Heatwave out of my head for ages after a car parked outside my house and blasted it out. This was torture. Mex, by way of contrast, breeds reassuringly pleasant ear-worms, none nicer than the deliciously smooth refrains from my favourite song here I Love You, I Hate You, I Love You, which weaves words about interpersonal insecurities into classy, suitably brooding pop.


The album's sleeve prominently quotes Robert Louis Stevenson's words: ‘You must suffer me to go my own dark way.’ Maybe it's appropriate that Stevenson was the author of Treasure Island.