Mercury Rev: Deserter's Songs – review


You don't need to know a thing about Mercury Rev to appreciate what a wracked place the band was in when it recorded its 1998 masterpiece, Deserter's Songs. Almost every note communicates emotional fragility and nostalgia for lost love, lost youth, lost dreams. Its songs are mournfully orchestral, shivering with woodwind and romantic but unstable strings. Its musical interludes, crackling as though transmitted by gramophone, are unsettling: a desolate piano murmurs to itself in I Collect Coins, then argues with a scraped violin in The Happy End (The Drunk Room). Jonathan Donahue, recovering from an alcohol-fuelled breakdown, sings of life inside "the suicide machine" and recurring dreams of fractured relationships, in a high voice crushed by experience yet radiant with hope. The reissue isn't faultless – many of the extra tracks are appalling quality, and The Hudson Line still jars – but that just heightens its sense of how imperfect life is.


Maddy Costa

The GuardianTramp

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