This record is credited by many as the birth of alt country. (Funnily enough, a record by an American band released exactly five years later is also credited as the birth of alt country…) I’m not sure that’s true for more than a few reasons, but it’s still a remarkably unique post punk record, especially for the UK.
I don’t know much about the Mekons and the backstory but I know that the backstory plays into how well received this record was. Nearly breaking up and then releasing something like this really helps add to the narrative.
The record is indeed unique. It’s not all “alt country” as is advertised, it’s actually far more unique than that. “Trouble Down South” (perhaps its most infamous track) sounds a little too much like late Clash to me but, otherwise, it’s hard to pick up too many recent British influences (outside of the punk aesthetic in general). There are songs that certainly fit into the idea of “alt country” (looking at things retrospectively), there’s certainly a cowpunk vibe at times, and there is music that sounds like later alternative rock, in that it is vaguely punk-influenced but also very clearly not punk and not of other contemporary genres either.
It’s utterly unique. (Think of the British post punk of the early ’80s. What sounds like this.) It also mostly works. I’m not sure I like the material quite as much as many people do, but it’s certainly not a problem. And I like the aesthetic. (If you like alt country or anything “alternative” in the real sense of the term.)
I think there’s a little bit of hindsight in ascribing the birth of an American subgenre to a record that doesn’t sound that much like that subgenre, but that happens every time anyone tries to look through history for influences.
To me, it’s one of the many mid ’80s albums that helped established alternative as a thing. It’s just more unique than some of them.