Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Mercury Rev - The Dark Is Rising (2001)

3.0 ★/6.0 - 6.9

Gosh, look at that album cover - can you say overkill much? And check out the tracklisting - "The Dark Is Rising". What a bunch of dorks! There’s a song called "Hercules"! I can just picture Norwegian Viking Metal fans getting excited about the pretense of Roman gods conducting epic battles. But mentioning the whimsy of Mercury Rev in the same sentence of Death Metal is silly. This album obviously conjures up the images of witches and encantation more than it does of battles and testosterone. Speaking of genetic makeup, did they take estrogen shots in the making of this album? I’ve never heard so much delicate tender lyricism set to equally romantic atmosphere for a while. The closest modern approximation I can think of is HIM. Wow, Aron, you just mentioned HIM and Norwegian Viking Metal in one review. If the reader hasn’t walked away yet, they’re a real trooper. And you gentle reader, will be awarded for your perseverance if you get this album, because the music itself isn’t nearly as silly as any of the imagery conjured by the album’s inclinations (especially those goofy looking “pensive” band pics in the liner notes). Don't get me wrong, there’s definitely bombast in small doses. Listen to the opening of "The Dark Is Rising" to get an idea of the bravado employed occasionally. The symphonic self-indulgence swells like a Star Wars soundtrack. But it’s kinda deceiving because, in the same track after the initial boom, a lovely piano ballad follows - one that’s subtle and intelligent as well as emotional... uh oh, here comes the swell again...

Despite such a mixed opening track, the album grows to harbor genuine gold in the dream pop field. Yes, the swirling synth lines, sprightly bass and absolutely huge sounding piano chords in "Nite And Fog" may as well be playing on your parent’s lite-rock AM radio station, but the spectacular hooks make it hard to dislike. The gentle melancholia of "Tides of The Moon" drifts loosely along, expanding into a nice reverb drenched drift. "Lincoln’s Eyes" is an eerie lullaby that explodes into an unhinged swirling jam session before settling back into the prior unsettling atmosphere. "Little Rhymes" comes in like a gentle train whistle and grows into a steady, bass-driven anthem creating the feel of skating on the rings of Saturn. The splendid "Hercules" builds upon the initial two chord acoustic progression in all sorts of exhilarating ways before exhausting every possible outgrowth and ending the album with a bang.

Majesty is a sorely under-appreciated emotion in music these days. Thank god for bands like this bringing it back unashamedly. Sometimes Mercury Rev slips and lays down a clunker or two, becoming the perfect example of style over substance. Nowhere is this more notable than in Donahue’s lyrics which beats the dog dead with their portrayal of women through proverbs ranging from decent to embarrassing. But for the most part, they wisely sidestep that weakness and gives us a worthy follow up to Deserter's Songs.

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