Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Mercury Rev -- 'The Dark Is Rising'



Hi readers, I know it's been a quiet month here, but my life's been pretty crazy since it was announced that I'm the new Doctor Who. I swear, I can't even sneeze right now without Jonathan Ross offering me a hanky, the fucking crawler. Anyway, I'm starting to get used to my newfound fame, so please bear with me while I get a little schematic...
Like I've implied before, I'm a sucker for escapist fantasy that is tainted by the very things it seeks to escape from. Since sci-fi and horror are Frankenstein's children, this trait is hardwired in their genes, but it crops up in other areas too. Indeed, you can see it in everything from the resolutely mortal fantasy of All Star Superman to the haunted rapture of Hercules & Love Affair via the way the Karen O's voice undercuts her whole persona.
The current incarnation of Mercury Rev are a perfect example of this phenomenon. The band have a seemingly endless supply of backwoods fairytale soundtracks at their disposal, but no matter how dreamy their keys-strings-drums get, the vocals can't help but mess the whole story up.

If you know me at all, you'll know I mean that in a good way -- there's a naive, cracked earnestness to Jonathan Donahue's vocals that reaches for wonder and frequently falls short. And it's in hearing the man try for something he can't always maintain that a lot of the real magic happens in Mercury Rev songs, the kind of magic that leads to lyrics like "And I know/ It ain't gonna to last" or "Bands/ Those funny little plans/ That never work quite right".

Mercury Rev's aesthetic is equal parts triumph and failure, and this split is made literal in 'The Dark Is Rising'. The music alternates between almost parodic, string-powered bombast and shameless lamentation, with Donahue facing up to the fact that his dreams don't match up to reality:
I never dreamed I'd hurt you
I never dreamed I'd lose you
In my dreams, I'm always strong
It's not a shockingly original sentiment, but it's so straight-faced that it feels new when Donahue sings it. And then the strings crash back in again and again, and the whole thing teeters on the edge of ridiculousness. The song's video matches these sections up to images of the band being blasted by storms of billowing confetti, but it seemed much more fitting to watch Donahue throw ridiculous he-man poses while his band played the song at last year's Connect festival. The instrumental parts of 'The Dark Is Rising' sound desperate in their hugeness, which only makes the moments where the pose crumples even more affecting:
I always dreamed I'd love you
I never dreamed I'd lose you
In my dreams, I'm always strong
Fantasy is almost always futile, but that doesn't mean that we won't keep throwing ourselves into it, trying to find fresh strength in its escapes. It's a goofy way to live, maybe, but Mercury Rev confront this weakness without blinking, and the result is unreservedly wonderful.

Next up: another script meeting with Stephen Moffat. I'm trying to put a bit of myself into the series -- my idea is that we'll alternate between ultra-compressed, Mister Miracle #4 style psycho-poetry and ponderous, Beckettian drama, but we'll see how it goes. Let's just hope that I can clear this head-cold sometime soon, 'cos I really don't think I'm capable of properly conveying my intentions right now...

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