Mercury Rev: The Light In You (Bella Union)

US alt. rock figureheads return with first new LP in seven years

Released Oct 1st, 2015 via Bella Union / By Erick Mertz
Mercury Rev: The Light In You (Bella Union) I am perfectly willing to admit that the pomp and glitter I admired back in the days when life was one continuous string of soft, white Christmas lights has faded. It happens. You move on, looking back with nostalgia. Among those shimmering, late-90’s bulbs was Deserter’s Songs a collection of essential music that proved an ineffable soundtrack to some of young life’s rough sailing.

Expecting Mercury Rev to mine those same sequins as they did in 1998 is not fair and I’m not discussing their new one exclusively through that lens. The globe has, inevitably spun off that axis into something else, something more realistic and perhaps cynical. What The Light In You represents though, as an unabashed Mercury Rev fan, is a return to that vein of cosmically grand song craft and neo-psychedelic lyrical storytelling.

Throughout the new record, the old Jonathan Donohue mythology steps out in full force, his lonesome New York City hallucinations on “Central Park East” the flicker of the silver screen daydream on “Amelie” and “Are You Ready?” which runs along the Flaming Lips call to mystical arms. These are all quintessential Mercury Rev songs, stony and swimming, sprawling like sketches in the margins of a pre-teen girl’s maths test.

Objectively speaking, The Light In You isn’t a terribly far cry from the band’s early, halcyon recordings. What distinguishes this record from its scene-setting predecessors though is that the excesses here aren’t as easily forgiven -- and Mercury Rev is a band that, like their puff-puff-jam analogs, need to press deep into that well of excess for credibility. A few tracks here feel almost unnecessary (like really, when have you ever felt that about Mercury Rev?) like the dolphin vision quest “Coming Up For Air” or “Sunflower” which to my ear stick out like a sore, B-sides, crammed into the play list for some un-Godly reason.

With the drop of The Light In You that old optimism flashed and for Mercury Rev fans, this is going to feel warranted. It is a decent, solid record; if I was giving out numeric ratings, I’d say a solid seven, which could spike further with repeat listens. That edge isn’t here though, and that grit proves the crucial dividing line between classic and not so much.