Beggars Banquet, 1995
This forty-minute nugget is Mercury Rev's in-betweener album, a transition between their avant-garde, David Baker-fronted days and the cinematic pop landscapes of Deserter's Songs. It has its own colourful, off-the-wall character. New lead vocalist Jonathan Donahue's voice is buried beneath a hotch-potch of instrumental sounds, seemingly thrown together like splashing paint on a canvas.
Familiarity is the way to appreciate it. After a few listens, then the sounds naturally start to go together. There's the usual soaring trumpets and flutes here and there, but a lot more moments of carefree inspiration, starting with the gentle bubbling sounds and tinny synth-piano that begin "Empire State". The blaring horns at the climax of "A Sudden Ray of Hope" were the perfect touch to top off its light, floaty tune. "Everlasting Arm" has that bizarre gloopy atmosphere I've only heard in early Rev, that I can only describe as "underwater drunkenness" (see also "Girlfren" from "Boces").
Amidst the instrumental chaos, the only moment that really recalls the raw psycho-eyed focus of their "Boces" days is "Young Man's Stride", a head-to-the-floor rocker, kicked off by Dave Fridmann's propulsive bassline. Generally there's much more a sense of relaxed fun than "Boces". Just as the final instrumental jam of the "Racing the Tide" starts to plod and lose focus, it's rescued by the uninhibited whirl, parping trumpets and whooping female vocals of "Close Encounters from the Third Grade". After the piano-backed tango of "Kiss from an Old Flame", they sentimentally bid us farewell with the fragmented blues of "Peaceful Night".
I'd put this well down the list of albums to get for those new to Mercury Rev, but despite its over-egging tendencies, it's friendly in its own eccentric way.
July 14, 2005