posted on October 06, 2008 19:00
A review of the album 'Snowflake Midnight' by Mercury Rev
Review Snapshot: One-time experimental mavericks from upstate New York return with a departure in sound, but find themselves stuck on repeat, peddling their same optimistic and wide-eyed view of the world. Dressed up in a shiny new electronic suit it may be, it’s merely ‘The Secret Migration’ with beats. Where has the magic gone?
The Cluas Verdict? 2 out of 10
This is not Mercury Rev. That much we know since the overwrought pomposity of a least half of 2001’s ‘All Is Dream’ gave way to the epic folly of 2005’s ‘The Secret Migration’ - the sound of a band convinced they were pushing sonic boundaries whilst, in reality, they were merely elbowing The Verve aside from their pedestal of overblown epic rock. It is impossible to reconcile the band who made ‘Snowflake Midnight’ with the band who unleashed ‘Yerself Is Steam’ to such a cathartic effect on an unsuspecting audience still knee deep in Madchester and shoegazing way back in 1991.
If for many ‘Deserter’s Songs’ is their touchstone record , for me it’s ‘Yerself Is Steam’ – an obscene mélange of bad drugs, indecipherable lyrical content and a wacked-out flautist thrown on top of a rabble of musicians collectively intent on musical deviance. It’s a remarkable, malevolent masterpiece.
Sonically, ‘Snowflake Midnight’ most closely resembles 1995’s ‘lost’ album ‘See You On The Other Side’, which was sound of a band content with the fact that the world had largely forgotten them after the excesses of ‘Boces’ (which happened to be the, er, unbalanced - and much missed - David Baker’s last record with the band before Jonathon Donahue took complete control of their vision). Yet the euphoric psychedelia of that record stands in stark contrast to the relentlessly mawkish sentimentality of ‘Snowflake Midnight’.
I’ve never quite understood bands who, in search of a change of direction, invariably decide upon augmenting their sound with ill-suited faux-electronica – this, it seems, is the default approach for bands in transition. ‘Snowflake Midnight’ repeatedly showcases this change in the band’s sound and it’s one which is as ill-fitting as it is unnecessary - ‘Butterfly’s Wing’ is backed by inane computer generated beats and bleeps, and accompanied by Donahue’s, by now, customary optimistic whine. Some four minutes long, the song is an exercise in futility and showcases the dilution of Mercury Rev both musically and lyrically.
‘Senses On Fire’ - the album’s one stand-out track - with its electro-doodle intro builds into a glimpse of what 2008’s Mercury Rev could have been: the title repeated throughout and Donahue’s vocoded voice menacingly intoning ‘Ready or not, here I come’. Wonderful stuff, yet thoroughly out of place with the dross surrounding it. Otherwise, only ‘Faraway From Cars’ merits a positive mention, if only for the fact that it could well have been lifted from ‘See You On The Other Side’.
Lyrically, Donahue still resides in a dream world invariably populated by mysterious female figures; “In the green grass a young girl dreams she’s a flower in the field, But in my dream, you are real”. He’s not saying anything new – hell, he doesn’t have to – but it would be nice if he’d say it all in a different way.
Where once the band thrilled with the incandescent menace of ‘Chasing A Bee’ or beguiled with the simple beauty of ‘Holes’ or ‘Tonite It Shows’, today the band evoke nothing but half-arsed mysticism and a nauseating fixation with the natural world populated by ethereal figures of Jonathon Donahue’s imagination. With song titles such ‘Snowflake in a Hot World’, ‘Runaway Raindrop’ and ‘A Squirrel and I Holding On (And Then Letting Go)’, they have, alas, become Barney on acid.
This then is the sad sound of a band running on empty. Dear God, this is Mercury Rev.