Mercury Rev were, for quite a long time throughout the 90s, one of those bands who got a fair bit of critical acclaim in the music papers and magazines but who were often quite difficult to track down on radio. They were, to all intent and purposes, the perfect definition of a cult band.
Between 1991 and 1997, they churned out 3 LPs and 9 EPs/singles, none of which sold all that well in the UK. Back home in the USofA, they were even more unheralded, with the soft and high-pitched vocal style of Jonathan Donahue often being cited as the thing that most held them back at a time when rock with a slightly harder edge was in vogue.
But in 1998, the release of the LP Deserter’s Songs very briefly put the band firmly in the spotlight. It was a record seemingly not all that different in sound, mood and tone from 1995 work See You On The Other Side, but it just seemed to capture the hearts and minds of many music fans, including the staff at the NME who made it #1 LP of 1998.
I hadn’t paid any attention to the band until then but when I finally did it wasn’t down to the things being written about them. Instead, it was the power of television…..
This was the time when I first got satellite TV, and one of its initial attractions was the ability to surf across the music channels trying to find new and edgy music or videos that I would like, and for a while a lovely promo for a song called Goddess On A Hiway was on heavy rotation.
Come Xmas 1998, and it was the usual requests from friends and relatives about what was on my list to Santa in terms of music and books, and given the critical acclaim afforded to the album, I did add Deserter’s Songs and it subsequently was wrapped in glittery paper come 25th December.
It was, and remains, an LP that I don’t quite get what all the fuss was about, albeit it was pleasant enough in a non-offensive way. My favourite track on it was subsequently released as a single in January 1999 and in reaching #26, became the band’s first bona fide hit:-
What is most interesting however from the CD single that I picked up for 99p a few weeks later after it had disappeared out of the charts is that the band and/or their label persuaded The Chemical Brothers to make a remix of the song which is near unrecognisable :-
The CD single also contained a really rootsy track which was in fact a live version of a Neil Young song that had originally been recorded for an XFM session in November 1998:-
Mercury Rev, The Chemical Brothers and Neil Young. Three acts that you wouldn’t expect in one blog post far less on a CD single in the bargain bin.