Mercury_Rev_-_The_Light_In_You_3Pressing play on a Mercury Rev album is like the aural equivalent of opening a volume of fairy tales. You know you’ll be in for an intense and evolving series of narratives infused with melancholy and introspection best enjoyed in its entirety as an immersive experience.

For a band with a track record of creating albums with this level of intricacy, it’s hardly surprising that Mercury Rev’s last full-length release was 2008’s Snowflake Midnight. However, like any underrated band celebrated for being difficult to categorise, they have something of a cult following who will see eight years as a famine.

Mercury Rev’s albums always have one or two enduring, potent tracks that withstand months, even years, of repeat playing. Not to say their neighbouring songs aren’t engaging, just that when Mercury Rev are good, they’re very, very good. ‘Secret For A Song’, ‘Across Yer Ocean’, ‘Tonite It Shows’ and of course, ‘Godess On A Highway’ are solid examples.

After weeks of familiarisation with The Light in You, it’s more difficult than with previous albums to identify those zeniths. One of Mercury Rev’s differentiators is their dramatic contrasting of discord and harmony, pushing an awe-inspiring host of instruments to their limits to create a cumulation of sounds that is almost jarring and cacophonous before dropping everything sharply down to delicate, pin-dropping levels.

The Light in You has abandoned this playing off of extremities to a great extent and feels as though there has been a conscious effort to tone things down both musically and lyrically. The thinking behind the album’s progression seems to be a rough and uncertain beginning evolving to a happier ending, but delivering straight-up sunny optimism is very un-Mercury Rev.

Opening track ‘Queen Of Swans’, a favourite of BBC6 in recent months, is one of the stronger tracks on the album, along with ‘You’ve Gone With So Little For So Long,’ which seems to tap into topical issues of poverty, loneliness and loss of direction, contrasted with signature Mercury Rev instrumental twinkles. ’Central Park East’ may well become an anthem for the disenfranchised urban dweller, with its “lonely boy” figure roaming Central Park, woven among ethereal musical landscapes and dramatically beautiful imagery such as, “A million magic carpets touching down and taking off”.

‘Coming Up For Air’, ‘Autumn’s In The air’ and ‘Moth Light’ represent the difficult transition between dark and light and while not the most indelible tracks, are for the most part beautifully written and composed.

Everything that doesn’t work on The Light in You is epitomised by ‘Sunflower’. Handclaps, smatterings of brass, minimal chords and clunky lyrics such as, “Sunshine high above you, no clouds up in the sky”, and, “There’s lots more where he came from baby, you just gotta look around”, give this track an awful holiday camp, forced-fun edge that just doesn’t come across as original or add anything to the band’s repertoire. ‘Rainy Day Record’ is a similar story, and while it has some moments that endear (the optimism of turning a corner, for example) it fades out into an anticlimactic ending to the album.

The Light in You presents a dilemma – experimentation is usually a positive when it comes to creativity, and there is a general expectation for musicians to pull something new out of the hat with each album.

There are few, if any, bands I would make the following assertion about, but Mercury Rev possess such a unique sound and niche comfort zone that moving just an inch in either direction drastically alters their impact.

It feels wrong to say that experimenting with a well-intended, more upbeat direction is a mistake, but for Mercury Rev the shoe doesn’t fit. To quote Bill Hicks, wholesomeness isn’t always inspiring when it comes to creativity. “I want my children to listen to people who fucking rocked. I don’t care if they died in puddles of their own vomit. I want someone who plays from his fucking heart!”

As an objective writer, I sincerely hope Mercury Rev take whatever direction brings them the greatest fulfillment. But as a fan I have always held them in high regard for their reluctance to veer from what they are good at, and I selfishly hope that the future sees them abandoning the light and the sunflowers for the psalms and the spells, the prickly little thorns, the night, the fog, the butterflies and the secrets.

Release Date 02/10/2015 (Bella Union)

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