June 30, 2005

Mercury Rev "The Secret Migration"

It's been a long, interesting and somewhat unpredictable decade and a half for New York's Mercury Rev. Starting off as a collective that specialized in weird avant-noise, (Yerself is Steam and Boces, they then lost their lead singer and mutated into a band with a sound that dropped the art-rock for an amalgum of rock and jazz (See You On The Other Side). Time passed, and after being dropped by their label, they further polished their sound, this time leaning towards lonesome folk-rock with a trace of psychedelia and baroque-pop tendencies (Deserter's Song), which shocked the world (and the band), and in turn it provided Mercury Rev with their greatest commercial success to date. It was then that the band really exploded, and 2002's All is Dream was a bold, overwhelming record that was quite dark and overly bombastic, with gorgeous orchestrations and a space-rock tendency that had only been hinted at before.

Much like The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev doesn't sound remotely like the band they were fifteen years ago; their weirdo tendencies replaced by a sound that's lush, drop-dead gorgeous and unlike any other music being made today. The band transcends easy description; the music is as pretty as you'd expect from a band made in the remote areas of upstate New York. Mercury Rev rightfully earned their reputation for grand post-prog rock masterpieces; producer Dave Fridmann's reputation of quality and beauty is built upon his work with Mercury Rev, too. Mercury Rev's musical progression over the past fifteen years has been quite fascinating and quite rewarding.

So, then, why does Mercury Rev's latest album fail to satisfy? All of the elements of the past are in place: the sweet, heartfelt lyrics set to wonderfully lush accompaniment; lead singer Jonathan Donahue's voice is as strong and as childlike as ever. The Secret Migration is a pretty record, but it does find Mercury Rev treading in place. Even though they've retained their delicate, intricate sound, they've distanced themselves from the beautiful orchestrated arrangements of All Is Dream. The gorgeous "In A Funny Way" and "Secret for a Song" try to escape the album's influence, but without the grandiose elements of before, these songs feel somewhat flat. "My Love" and "Across Yer Ocean" also recall All is Dream. It isn't until "In the Wilderness""Arise" that the band seems to escape the shadow of their previous glories; these songs are much more driving and upbeat, recalling--but never revisiting--the better moments of Deserter's Songs.

Mercury Rev hasn't lost the knack for writing beautiful orchestrated rock songs, but The Secret Migration isn't their best work; for the first time in their career, they've repeated themselves. Admittedly, it must not have been easy for the band to follow up such a wonderful artistic statement as All Is Dream. Though Mercury Rev might not have intentionally tried to repeat their past glories, The Secret Migration doesn't do a convincing job of moving beyond them, either. Still, it is an extremely lovely record, even if it sounds too much like a Mercury Rev album.

(A limited edition version of The Secret Migration is available, and is definitely better than the regular edition. The second disc contains radio session renditions of "My Love," "Black Forest (Lorelei)" and "Diamonds," all of which seem to add a definite spark to the somewhat listless album versions. Especially noteworthy are covers of the traditional "Streets of Laredo," Nico's "Afraid" and Captain Beefhart's "Observatory Crest.")

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.mercuryrev.com
Label Website: http://www.v2music.com

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