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Mecca Normal (The First Album)

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Album Review

The duo's 1986 debut, later rereleased on stalwart label K in the States, found the basic approach of the band fully in place from the start – Lester on electric guitar, Smith on vocals, nothing else. It's always a bit of a shock to hear it, but that shock is the one of received expectations being trashed – this is rock and roll, it's just of a kind that finds a new virtue in a truly stripped-down approach, the rougher counterpart to the likes of the Young Marble Giants. With Lester then Smith slowly fading into the start of the album with "Who Told You So?," his garage-anthem thrash and her sharp quaver feeding off each other just so, the sense throughout The First LP is of confidence – this is exactly how the two want to sound, and nothing is missing. The most famous track remains "I Walk Alone," thanks to its iconic place in nearly every Mecca Normal live show when Smith leaves the stage to stride through the audience, still singing. It's a deserved showstopper – if the original doesn't quite match the live strength of the song, Smith's proud, straightforward declaration of independence and Lester's easy-going strum still beautifully encapsulate everything great about Mecca Normal in two and a half minutes. Smith is such a strong figure that it's almost too easy to miss Lester's own abilities, but he brings them to the fore constantly, whether it's the focused semi-surf riff driving "Are You Hungry Joe?" or the psychedelic flanging on "Sha La La La La." Secret highlight, and the longest song on the album – "Not With You," a high-and-lonesome country-derived piece. Lester's low-key chime and Smith's passionate singing somehow achieves a beautiful state of musical grace without losing any edge.


Formed: 1981 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Cana

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

A seminal influence on Northwestern indie rock (and especially on the riot grrl movement), Vancouver's Mecca Normal was the bridge between female post-punk primitives like the Raincoats and the Slits -- not to mention Patti Smith's punk poetry -- and the more explicitly political, feminist noisemakers of the '90s. Lo-fi, amateurish, and decidedly minimalist, Mecca Normal was essentially a duo, with occasional studio help; vocalist Jean Smith (also a poet, novelist, and painter) declaimed her stream-of-consciousness,...
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Mecca Normal (The First Album), Mecca Normal
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