Dusted Reviews

Mercury Rev - The Secret Migration

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Mercury Rev

Album: The Secret Migration

Label: V2

Review date: May. 2, 2005

Not to overuse any clichés, but Mercury Rev have indeed had a strange trip of it. Playing their debut Yerself is Steam before their latest The Secret Migration is an interesting exercise in "Uh...this isn't the same band, is it?,” which is either a tribute to the group's evolution or an indictment of their intentions, depending on one's inclinations. Since second-guessing intentions is a loser's exercise, I'll grant the band the benefit of the doubt, and go with the flow.

In any case, it was with 1998's Deserter's Songs that Mercury Rev took a notable departure from their past, one which has led to this new album. Deserter's Songs was the sound of a group ready for a change, displaying a restlessness and even unsteadiness that ended up serving the songs well. Unfortunately, three years later All is Dream seemed to indicate that Mercury Rev had turned left when they should have turned right, the results being akin to Burt Bacharach playing indie rock. Perhaps simultaneously achieving lushness and blandness was something, but it was hardly welcome. One could easily be forgiven for thinking that the three-year gap was the result of the band's uncertainty over how to follow the critical success of Deserter's Songs.

It's a bit of a relief to hear The Secret Migration, then. The band seem to have realized their own misstep, or perhaps their natural progression simply pushed them back across the line. Regardless, these songs truck in their now-trademark heavy orchestration, but for the most part without the extra layers of fat and saccharine that plagued Dream. Yes, there are still moments that pass somewhat over the top, and the Rev are still in search of that combination of charm and inventiveness that made Deserter's Songs so welcome. But overall, and not simply in comparison with Dream, The Secret Migration is a fine album. I won't call it a return to form, since it's unclear that there is a form to which to return.

Perhaps "romantic" is the best adjective for this album, with a heavy use of piano and, of course, producer Dave Fridmann's dense layering of synths, strings, guitar and reverb. Vocalist Jonathan Donahue is both the center and the potential downfall of these songs; his fanciful, fantastical lyrics aren't for everyone, and his voice occasionally has trouble fighting its way successfully through the music. However, opening the album with "Secret for a Song" was a good move, as its strong, pulsing bass and droning, reverbed guitar sit over steady drums and allow the piano and vocals to raise the melody up above it all. "Vermillion" is perhaps the most memorable song here, combining a strong rhythm section with a beautiful vocal melody backed by myriad different sounds. It also features a very welcome intense guitar break by guitarist Grasshopper, who gets slightly short shrift on this album. "In a Funny Way" is quite reminiscent of Deserter's Songs, wrapped in a shroud of old-fashioned sound like one of your grandparents' 78 rpm records.

Alas, not all shines so brightly. "In the Wilderness," thankfully a short song, has the band wasting a great bass line on a featherweight tune with frankly embarrassing lyrics. "My Love" and "The Climbing Rose" both feel like the band is simply playing it too safe – there are few surprises, and the songs end without leaving much impression. A number of the other songs cruise by without either negative or positive feelings; they're neither good nor bad, simply fine.

Ultimately, nobody's likely to claim The Secret Migration as a great album, I'm afraid. But it possesses energy and inspiration that its predecessor greatly lacked, and even the weaker songs here have something to recommend. We may still be waiting for more grit and for Mercury Rev to come back down, but at least with this album, the earth is once again within sight.

By Mason Jones

Other Reviews of Mercury Rev

Snowflake Midnight

Read More

View all articles by Mason Jones

Find out more about V2

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.