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Mercury Rev - The Essential: Stillness Breathes (1991-2006)

Mercury Rev: The Essential

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

AMERICAN indie-rock outfit Mercury Rev remain something of an enigma to me. At their best, they’re capable of moments of blissfully orchestral indie-rock in the form of best-known singles, Goddess On A Highway and Dark Is Rising.

At their worst, however, their prone to feedback drenched psychedelia as exemplified by noisy, sprawling tracks such as Chasing A Bee.

This first greatest hits collection, entitled The Essential: Stillness Breathes (1991-2006) showcases both sides of the band, as well as a selection of unreleaed outtakes, B-sides and remixes (including one from the Chemical Brothers).

Led by the distinct high-pitched vocals of Jonathan Donahue, Mercury Rev are more than capable of producing moments of ethereal beauty that’s reminiscent of Wayne Coyne’s Flaming Lips – but they lack the consistency of that band and have struggled to make as consistently strong an impression.

That said, this double-CD retrospective offers plenty to savour in amongst the earlier disappointments.

The aforementioned Goddess On A Highway and Dark Is Rising remain impossibly beautiful works that hint at a higher state of being (or is that substance guided?), while the likes of the trippy Black Forest, which talk of dragonflies offering you a ride, are rich in psychedelic imagery and sweeping instrumentals.

The wistful, contemplative Holes is another gem, speaking of “big blue open seas” and vast expanses of time and space that cannot be crossed or climbed. Coupled with Donahue’s impossibly high-pitched, yet achingly fragile vocals, the songs are often spellbinding.

Needless to say, much of the best material comes from Mercury Rev’s most recent material, when their songwriting escaped from the feedback and became more expansive.

But there is a curiosity to be found in going back to their earlier work and seeing how it has progressed, while some of the B-sides and remixes are sure to please the diehard fans, such is their rarity.

CD2 therefore provides further moments to savour, including the Chemical Brothers remix of Delta Sun, their glorious cover version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and breathtaking versions of Philadelphia, Coney Island Cyclone and It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.

Indeed, there are moments when the second CD provides even bigger rewards than the first, such is the rarity of several of the tracks. For this reason alone, Mercury Rev have delivered a collection of work that can truly be described as essential!

Track listing:
Disc 1:

  1. Diamonds
  2. Everlasting Arm
  3. In A Funny Way
  4. Goddess On A Hiway
  5. Chasing A Bee
  6. Dark Is Rising
  7. Black Forest (Lorelei)
  8. Holes
  9. Car Wash Hair
  10. Empire State (Son House In Excelsis)
  11. Something For Joey
  12. Frittering
  13. Drop In Time
  14. Opus 40

Disc 2

  1. I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier
  2. I Only Have Eyes For You – Mercury Rev & Sean O’Hagan
  3. Observatory Crest
  4. Streets Of Larado
  5. So There – Mercury Rev & Robert Creeley
  6. Afraid
  7. He Was A Friend Of Mine
  8. Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp
  9. It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World
  10. Clamor
  11. Seagull
  12. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  13. Coney Island Cyclone
  14. Silver Street
  15. Deadman – Mercury Rev & Alan Vega
  16. Philadelphia
  17. Good Times Ahead
  18. Memory Of A Free Festival