Mercury Rev – ‘Deserter’s Songs’

I must’ve done an okay job in Penzance because a request to return nearer home and to a bigger shop was granted. Fareham was over an hours drive from home and turnover was five times what it was in Penzance. I had a challenge and my work cut out, but I was back home. At the tail end of ’98 I had new colleagues, so new inspirations and new music. The first that grabbed me and sucked me in deep was the voluptuous Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev.

The album certainly has musical highs and lows, but the highs hit such incredible heavenly heights that the occasional and unnecessary musical interludes are easily forgiven. Jonathan Donahue’s alto tone matches Neil Young’s in its forlorn yet hopeful fragility, croaked over romantic, dreamlike tales and never better than in the luscious opener, Holes. A grand statement of intent, it was followed by a flow of lush orchestration, full of peaks and troughs, complementing Donahue’s exquisitely frail vocals.

Opus 40 is a work of art. The orchestrated crescendo that builds up to Tears in waves, minds on fire / Nights alone by your side” is euphoric, before the dreamy Floyd-esque outro. Deserter’s Songs has many glorious peaks, the highest of which might just be the immense Goddess On A Highway, unbelievably written some ten years earlier when Donahue was a part of The Flaming Lips. The production, as with the whole album is perfection, peaking for the ecstatic, repeated chorus.

“And I know it ain’t gonna last
And I know it ain’t gonna last
When I see your eyes arrive
They explode like two bugs on glass.”

On the back laborious Britpop and the rise of what to me was nauseating nu-metal in the late ‘90s, Deserter’s Songs sound was a dark but beautiful breath of fresh air. The album catapulted Mercury Rev from relative obscurity to worldwide recognition, and rightly so. The album’s grand, psychedelic and symphonic sound seemed to act as a catalyst for the likes of Grandaddy and particularly The Flaming Lips who themselves matched and then surpassed the Rev’s critical acclaim with their next three rapturous albums. Deserter’s Songs came out of nowhere but was not a one-off, with follow up All Is Dream coming very close to matching its brilliance.