The band's lineup circa 1998.
Mercury Rev are a psychedelic Alternative Rock
band from Buffalo, New York, formed in 1989. They are frequently compared to the Flaming Lips
, since both bands experienced the same evolution from noisy, punky psychedelia to lushly orchestrated Baroque Pop
, Jonathan Donahue was a guitarist in the Lips for a few years early in The Nineties
, and Dave Fridmann near-exclusively produces both bands.
Their initial lineup was as follows:
- David Baker - vocals
- Jonathan Donahue - guitar, vocals
- Grasshopper (Sean Mackowiak) - guitar, clarinet
- Dave Fridmann - bass, keyboards, Record Producer
- Suzanne Thorpe - flute, horns
- Jimy Chambers - drums
This lineup produced two Cult Classic
albums, Yerself Is Steam
(1991) and Boces
(1993), which found a large audience and some chart success in the indie-rock-happy UK. The album's styles are marked by extended run-times
, ragged self-production, use of Grasshopper's homemade Tettix Wave Acumulator synth, a chaotic sound that constantly shifts between poppy accessibility and freaky guitar noisescapes, Word Salad Titles
, and the interplay between Baker's deranged, low-pitched vocals and Donahue's more Jónsi
The lineup was plagued by instability, drug abuse and Creative Differences
, and Boces
(named after New York's Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) earned infamy as a particularly Troubled Production
even by their Crazy Awesome
standards - one famous story is that either Donahue or Baker tried at one point to gouge out Grasshopper's eye with a spoon
Baker eventually departed in 1995, and the band's next album See You on the Other Side
(1995) captured the resulting transition: Baker took the noisy, confrontational side of the band's sound with him, leaving Donahue to steer the band towards a more accessible, melodic, lush Baroque Pop
-influenced sound. However, See You on the Other Side
sank like a brick on the UK charts and attracted no attention, leaving Donahue despondent and pushing the band into a hiatus.
Mercury Rev finally regrouped to record 1998's Deserter's Songs
, which surprisingly became their most successful album in the UK and Europe, and gave them a minor hit with "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp". This convinced them not to disband, and they've continued making Baroque Pop
albums ever since. Their lineup has also been reduced with Chambers and Thorpe leaving soon after Deserter's Songs
, leaving Donahue, Grasshopper, Fridmann and new drummer/pianist Jeff Mercel.
- Yerself Is Steam (1991)
- Boces (1993)
- See You on the Other Side (1995)
- Deserter's Songs (1998)
- All Is Dream (2001)note
- The Secret Migration (2005)
- Snowflake Midnight and Strange Attractor (2008)
Mercury Rev provide examples of:
- Broken Record: "Car Wash Hair", "Very Sleepy Rivers".
- Cool Old Lady: According to a 1991 interview with Melody Maker, Grasshopper's mother:
I ask Grasshopper's mother, who must be about 50-odd, if she enjoyed the show. "Oh yes," she beams, "it induced orgasm." I'm sorry? "It induced orgasm." After 36 hours in the vicinity of Mercury Rev
, nothing on earth should throw me
. This does. "Can I take your photograph?" she asks. I run away and tell Grasshopper that his band has just sexually aroused his mother. "Uh-huh," he says, like I've just asked him if he wants a beer. "She's kinda cool. And she smokes a lotta dope."
- Cover Version: They've covered "If You Want Me to Stay" by Sly And The Family Stone, "Shhh/Peaceful" by Miles Davis, "He Was a Friend of Mine" by Bob Dylan, "Motion Pictures" and "Philadelphia" by Neil Young, "Caroline Says Pt. II" by Lou Reed and the standard "I Only Have Eyes For You".
- Creepy Monotone: David Baker's singing on "Very Sleepy Rivers". He also pulls the Careful With That Axe.
- Demoted to Extra: Suzanne Thorpe was credited as part of the guest orchestra from All Is Dream onwards. It was generous to credit her as a band member to begin with considering that she didn't play on every song and didn't appear with the band in interviews and photo shoots.
- David Fridmann gradually phased himself out of the band, first declining to tour with them from 1995 onwards and then quitting as bass player before 2005's The Secret Migration while continuing to produce the band's albums. However, he remained credited as the band's bass player while still a studio player, making this case an aversion.
- Epic Rocking: "Chasing a Bee", "Sweet Oddysee of a Cancer Cell t' th' Center of Yer Heart", "Frittering", "Very Sleepy Rivers", "Car Wash Hair", "Meth of a Rockette's Kick", "Snorry Mouth", "Empire State (Son House In Excelsis)", "Racing the Tide", "Lincoln's Eyes", "Hercules".
- He Also Did: Jonathan Donahue made guest appearances on two The Chemical Brothers songs (he sang on "Dream On" and played additional guitar on "The Private Psychedelic Reel").
- Hidden Track: Their previously released single "Car Wash Hair" on Yerself Is Steam (some editions list it on the back); the almost Zelda-esque orchestral experiment hidden on Deserter's Songs.
- Idiot Ball: Fridmann stupidly wasted the band's advance on buying his mother a Bermuda vacation package, forcing them to seek assistance from Dean Wareham to record "Car Wash Hair".
- Indecipherable Lyrics: More than half of "Very Sleepy Rivers".
- Lighter and Softer: What they became after David Baker left.
- Loudness War: What Dave Fridmann does nowadays, unfortunately.
- Madness Mantra: "Very Sleepy Rivers".
- Murder Ballad: In a very cryptic way, "Very Sleepy Rivers" is about a serial killer who pretends to be a normal person.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiak.
- Persona Non Grata: In a Swans-like example, during the Lollapalooza tour in 1993, they were thrown off the stage for being too loud and noisy.
- Rouge Angles of Satin: Some of their titles are prone to this, like "Girlfren" or "Sweet Oddysee of a Cancer Cell t' th' Center of Yer Heart".
- Soprano and Gravel: In the early days, the contrast between David Baker's low-pitched mumbling and Jonathan Donahue's very high-pitched voice.
- Title Drop: "Chasing a Bee", for Yerself Is Steam.
- Troubled Production: Boces, to the point that the band refuse to play songs from it since it reminds them of the turbulent recording.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Baker's specialty. Jonathan Donahue did the same at first, but seems to have shifted to more straightforward lyrics recently.
- Word Salad Titles: Keepers like "Syringe Mouth", "Sweet Oddysee of a Cancer Cell t' th' Center of Yer Heart" and "Continuous Trucks and Thunder Under a Mother's Smile" almost give the Flaming Lips a run for their money.