Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Tell Me No Secrets
Mercury Rev: The Secret Migration
Hindsight has proven what an apt title Mercury Rev's third album, See
You on the Other Side, turned out to be. A transitional work (thanks in
large part to the acrimonious exit of lead singer David Baker), See You
on the Other Side was an unavoidably awkward release, straddling the
band's earlier musical terrain, awash in indulgent psychedelic flameouts (Yerself
Is Steam and Boces), and new, boldly orchestral pop landscapes.
The Secret Migration, the band's sixth album, invites some parallels
to its pivotal third release. Like Other Side, it follows two albums
that defined the group's sound: the highly acclaimed Deserter's Songs
and 2001's lush, midnight-blue All is Dream, which charted Mercury
Rev's new, Baker-less terrain. While there's no colossal lineup change this
time around, and longtime producer Dave Fridmann is back behind the
controls, The Secret Migration nonetheless has an evolving feel about
it. And that's a good thing.
Not that the first two thirds of the album give dramatic testimony to this
effect. From the de rigueur sweeping arrangement of "Secret for a
Song" (which establishes the record's thematic conceit with "I'll take you
where the Morningstar burns just for you, my dark country bride") through
the grating "Black Forest (Lorelei)" (with its sugary, simplistic tale of
white horses, black forests and taking flight on the backs of dragonflies),
to "In the Wilderness" and such trite observations as "things aren't what
they seem ... life is but a dream," Secret Migration plays out like a
less-impressive workout of Mercury Rev, Phase II.
Then "My Love" appears: a deceptively simple confessional piece that
mentions changing seasons but never falls into the trap of vocal bombast
that seems to come so effortless to singer Jonathan Donahue. "My Love" is
earnest, pristine and gorgeous. "The Climbing Rose" and "Arise" fall back on
the familiar sound, but the album closes with "First-Time Mother's Joy
(Flying)," Donahue's unadorned voice accompanied by equally unadorned piano
and an atypically reserved rhythm section. And following that comes
the brief, mournfully praising "Down Poured the Heavens," which, like the
bulk of the record, lyrically celebrates a harmonious union with that
perfect mate. Whether this trio of songs hints at a new direction for
Mercury Rev remains to be seen, but clearly the band has mastered its
soaring pop style, to the point of fast encroaching irrelevancy.
The Secret Migration is a beautiful-sounding record, but
Deserter's Songs managed to sound spectacular and still work in
adventurous detours like "The Happy End (The Drunk Room)" and the wonderful
change-of-pace closer "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp." And All Is Dream
had the benefit of such weirdly wonderful excursions as "Lincoln's Eyes."
The Secret Migration, by comparison, is a collection of pastoral love
songs, which proves kinda dull (except, presumably, for that special person
to whom it's seemingly dedicated).
But there is a glimmer that change may be afoot. On "Across Yer Ocean,"
Donahue sings: "Where we go from here is anybody's guess." And that's an
exciting notion, considering the possibilities displayed on the handful of
stripped bare, emotionally naked tracks offered here. Count one reviewer
eager to hear what Mercury Rev, Phase III sounds like.
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