Album review

Mark Mulcahy - Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You

Mark Mulcahy - Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You

Influential former Miracle Legion mainstay breaks a long silence...

Conventional wisdom consoles that a compensation for adversity is that it teaches you who your friends are. In September 2008, Mark Mulcahy’s wife, Melissa, died suddenly aged 41, leaving Mulcahy the sole parent of three-year-old twins. Without his prompting, or knowledge, a benefit album of versions of his songs, 2009’s (i)Ciao My Shining Star(i) was recorded by luminaries including Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Vic Chesnutt, The National and Dinosaur Jr, among other peers and fans who wanted to ensure that Mulcahy was able to continue making records.

Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You is Mulcahy’s first release since then – his first studio album, indeed, since 2005’s weirdo pop epic “In Pursuit Of Your Happiness”. It largely finds Mulcahy reconnecting with the foundations that have underpinned his music ever since Miracle Legion were one of many groups of mid-80s college janglers burdened by the allegation that they were the next R.E.M. Mulcahy’s songs, now as then, are defined by a refusal to go quite where one might expect, lyrically or musically: on Dear Mark J. Mulcahy... he negotiates their manifold quirks and veers armed with little beyond an acoustic guitar and his husky, worried voice. This is an album of complex songs, simply arranged.

There are traces both of the artists that might have inspired Mulcahy when he started out (R.E.M., Warren Zevon, The Go-Betweens, Modern Lovers) and the artists who have been inspired by him since (The Shins, The National, Frank Turner, The Decemberists). The two opening tracks, “I Taketh Away” and “Everybody Hustles Leo”, share with The Go-Betweens circa “Spring Hill Fair” the charming, disorienting conceit of setting what are essentially acoustic pop tunes to a stomping glam rhythm section. The latter, the title of which appears to be borrowed from the screenplay of Robert Aldrich’s 1975 film “Hustle”, is especially terrific, a giddy lollop accompanied by handclaps and decorated by a breezy chorus and some characteristically oblique wordplay (“The first time is the worst time/The next time is the time before the third time/And so on, and so on”).

The tracks on Dear Mark J. Mulcahy... were recorded quickly, Mulcahy and his musicians setting themselves the challenge of getting each one wrapped in a day. This sort of pre-planned spontaneity can go badly when things end up sounding forced, but everything here radiates the refreshed sense of possibility that comes of doing something again after a lengthy interregnum of not doing it. The pretty, pastoral psychedelia of “She Makes The World Turn Backwards” is like sunlight falling through clouds. “He’s A Magnet” is a Velvets-ish choogle incongruously embellished with a flute. “Poison Candy Heart” is so joyously upbeat, its wry lyrical vitriol notwithstanding, as to include whistling.

The album has the unmistakeable lightness of a record which was easy and fun for everybody involved. Artists intent summoning portentous truth, or giving the appearance of so doing, tend not to include Jonathan Richman-esque whimsy like “Let The Fireflies Fly Away”, which begins with Mulcahy attempting alert a passing waiter to a frog in his starter, and ends with a coda in the sort of falsetto induced by laughing gas, accompanied by a banjo which sounds like it’s learning the song as it goes. In the context, this observation is intended to be nothing but complimentary.

There are some more reflective moments providing ballast, and/or a reminder that Mulcahy the melancholic strummer of yore has not completely slipped his moorings. The bleakly beautiful “Bailing Out On Everything Again” suggests a wilfully lo-fi Radiohead, and “Badly Madly” has something of the earnest melodramatics of Kevin Rowland’s ruminative monologues. Mostly, however, “Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You” sounds supremely happy to be here: it’s an infectious feeling.
Andrew Mueller

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Rating: 8 / 10

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