Mercury Rev by numbers
Although not a die-hard fan of ‘The Rev’ – I own nothing before Deserter’s Songs – this album has finished my interest in the band. As with Lambchop’s tedious ‘Aw Come On’ / No You Come On’, there comes a time in many band’s careers when the effect of their trademark sound no longer excites in the way it did before. It becomes a bit ‘Mercury Rev by numbers’. This feeling is in part because the songwriting has become further immersed in some slightly-dodgy flights of fantasia which aren’t quite as trippy or imaginary as you want them to be, and aren’t as idiosyncratic as the band want you to believe. I have noticed that over the last two albums that the imaginary world of Mercury Rev can be a rather impenetratable one, beguiling and strange but somehow impersonal. This is especially evident in the lyrics of ‘Black Forest (Lorelei)’ where Jonathan Donahue imagines himself as a white horse inviting you for a ride. I’m sure this is meaningful to the band, but I’m not really feeling it. Elsewhere the lyrics are mystical and pastoral in turns, with Donahue speaking of the ‘unseen force behind the falling leaves’ without ever really sounding like he cares. David Friddman’s production also has a way of keeping you at arms length on this occasion. It is a very glossy affair, and much of the intricacy and inventiveness of the playing is smoothed into a glassy sheen that is more soft rock than alternative. There are some amazing things happening in the mix, but they have been somehow homogenized. Saying all this, there are some great ‘songs’ (in the sense that there are some great melodies), in particular the single ‘Secret for a Song’, ‘Across Yer Ocean’ and ‘Vermillion’. But where the Flaming Lips keep reinventing their production values and imagery, this seems merely a step sideways.