Mecano – Snake tales for dragon

Great was my surprise a few months ago when I heard about this new album by Mecano. This avantgarde wave act from Amsterdam (not to be confused with their Spanish namesakes) was active between 1978 and 1983, after which it became silent.

Mecano was a multimedia collective, inspired by poetry and visual arts, named after the famous construction toys. They were active in a lively underground scene, with contemporaries like Minny Pops, Nasmak and Mekanik Kommando and labels like Plurex and Torso. Sometimes the label ‘ultra’ was used to describe this musical movement. After their last album Autoportrait (1983), only the essential double cd anthology Mecano – The 1/2" Universe appeared.

Personal motives of founding member Dirk Polak played a big role in this comeback of Mecano after 20 years. The new songs on ‘Snake tales for dragon’ are a way for Polak to express his feelings about personal losses, like the end of an intense relationship and the death of his friend Theo Van Gogh.

Nowadays Mecano is reduced to a duo. Tejo Bolten took care of most (electronic) instruments, singer Polak wrote the lyrics and played accordion, with guests on additional trumpet and guitar. Polak is foremost a painter (see for instance this interview from 2002; RealVideo, in Dutch) and graced the booklet with his typical artwork.

Compared to their earlier phase, the music of Mecano has lost some of its raw and experimental edges. “Snake tales for dragon” is mainly an album full of elegant listening pop, with tranquil moody songs, subtle instrumentation and the warm voice of Polak. Now and then references to the wave period can certainly be heard, like the melancholic sound on ‘Treasure lost and found’, which reminds me somewhat of Tuxedomoon or Trisomie 21.

Most songs are quite slow, except for ‘Love you one in a million’, which has an uptempo electronic beat, which is combined nicely with accordion loops. Other striking songs are the sober ‘November 2’, recalling the tragic day on which filmmaker Van Gogh was murdered, and ‘Painted words’, with a fusion of electronics and rock guitars and lyrics inspired by French poet Paul Eluard. More French touches can be found on ‘Le Chant du cygne du serpent’ and the lovely opener ‘Dusty soul’. It has the atmosphere of obscure Parisian bars at night and also makes me think of the latest Nits album.

This is an album full of intimate songs with a lot of feeling. Despite the often tragic subjects, the songs don’t make me sad, but are rather comforting instead. “Snake tales for dragon” is a timeless album that grows with each listening turn and comes therefore warmly recommended.

artist: Mecano
label: Mutantjasz
details: cd, 11 tracks, 2005