Modern English "Mesh and Lace" (1981)

Reviewed by: Joshua A. Pfeiffer

  Modern English were one of the first bands signed to Ivo Watts-Russel's legendary 4AD records. Mesh and Lace (their debut album) stands as one of the finest examples of Post-Punk ever recorded. It's Dark, Brooding, and Experimental. But it never once treads into the murky waters of Goth. At the time of it's release it was heavily compared to Joy Division, and fellow 4AD artists, Bauhaus. But it's far more interesting than just a clone of either of those bands.

  Modern English started life as The Lepers, a Colchester Punk band featuring Robbie Grey (vocals), Gary McDowell (guitar), and Richard Brown (drums). A year after forming they changed their name to Modern English after Bassist Mick Conroy, and Keyboardist Steve Walker joined the band. When they released their debut 7" "Drowning Man" it failed to gather enough interest from the local music industry. So the band decided to move to London where they hoped to have better luck. After squatting around West London for a few years they were signed to 4AD and released two singles before they completed their debut, Mesh and Lace.

  From the opening Bass riffs of Gathering Dust, one can gauge the power forming on this release. As Steve Walkers gentle pulsing synth effects crawl in over the bass and hi-hat. The drums start kicking in, and the guitars pick up the pace leading into Robbie Grey's memorable opening lines, "The Pressure's On, No Time to Lose". The song creates just the right amount of tension. The keyboards add a nice atmosphere to the standard drum, bass, guitar format. During the breakdown their's this great rolling tribal drum solo, complimented by guitars and synths that fade right into the second track.

  16 Days, is all keyboard experimentalism untill about a minute and a half in, when the band use samples very effectively to weave their tale of nuclear holocaust. The lyrics are very sparse in this track. Once again the synths are used to provide just the right amount of atmosphere. While the guitars are almost absent letting the drums and bass lead the piece.

  Just a Thought, is a great powerful track that starts with a low frequency synth line followed by some subdued screaming in the background. Richard Brown and Mick Conroy work together very well, balancing the Bass and Drums effectively.

  Move in Light, is yet another rolling powerhouse of a song. With the memorable lines "Exuberance Leads to Exhaustion", the listener gets the feeling that the band might be getting a bit exhausted themselves. But Robbie, and the rest of the band just keep on going, pulling the listener along for the ride.

  Grief, is a departure from the previous songs. Bringing in a more minimal feeling to the music. Gently strummed Bass chords, and more atmospheric guitar and keyboard effects create a nice dark dynamic to the song. The obvious comparisons to Joy Division are all over the place, and the dark, melancholy lyrics do nothing to suggest otherwise.

  The remaining tracks The Token Man, A Viable Commercial, Black Houses, and Dance of Devotion are all good, but bear more than just a passing resemblance to the earlier material on the album. They don't really offer much that the listener hasn't already heard. This seems to be a problem that most bands who try to do something new and different face.

  For those lucky enough to pick up the CD re-issue, the amazing early singles Smiles and Laughter, and Swans on Glass have been added to the tracklisting of the LP. Along with their respective B-Sides. Swans on Glass is a particularly moving track that sounds like an out of control whirlwind plowing through everything that gets in it's way! Mesh and Lace is another memorable B-side with an incredibly infectious chorus. The lines "Trapped in a Maze of Mesh and Lace" just get stuck in your head for days. The last track Incident is about as Punk as Modern English ever sound, with great dark lyrics that weave a very disturbing tale.

  Modern English would go on to critical acclaim in the states with their second LP "After the Snow". But Mesh and Lace is where the true roots of Post-Punk lie.

Special Thanks to: 4AD's excellent Modern English Biography for helping me get my facts straight.