After the totally unexpected comeback that was the brilliant Deserter’s Songs, Mercury Rev had to put out an album that was a suitable follow up to one of the key albums of the late 90s. Their track record of coming up with the goods when the chips was so far untested and there was the added complication that following the unexpected success of the previous album, only frontman Jonathan Donahue and guitar player Grasshopper remained as full time members of the band. Having finally found some equilibrium and success, Mercury Rev looked like it was about to tear itself apart. Again.
All was not lost though, studio bass player and producer David Fridmann was still on board and it was he that was responsible for much of the sonic beauty of Deserter’s Songs. Jack Nitzsche was also signed up to provide some heavy-weight orchestration as well, except that he sadly died before he got chance to help out. Never mind, as David Bowie associate Tony Visconti was on hand to step into the breach. The choice of orchestral collaborator was a vital one, as All Is Dream would rely heavily on huge sounding string sections. Actually it wasn’t just the string section that sounded bigger, the whole thing sounded much more pumped up and confident. This led to a different sound from Deserter’s Songs, though it still had obvious links to that album, but where its predecessor sounded like a twisted lullaby, All Is Dream was the resulting sinister nightmare.
There’s something quite unsettling about All Is Dream, maybe it’s because Donahue’s little-boy-lost vocals are so totally at odds with the huge sounding music, so much so that it often sounds like he’s being swept away by vast tsunami’s of sound. Where Deserter’s Songs was all focused detail, All Is Dream is a massive epic sweep, less delicate and intricate perhaps, but at the end of the day providing you with a much bigger picture.
Of the songs I’m particularly fond of the massive opener “The Dark Is Rising” which sounds like an epic theme tune to a fantasy film that is yet to be written and the equally impressive closer “Hercules”, which shows that modern bands can do epic without resorting to overblown technical showcases. The rest of the tracks are well written modern rock songs, with prog-flavoured lyrical nonsense throughout, that given the sinister dream feel of much of the music actually fits quite well.
At the end of the day, for all its epic bluster, All Is Dream does its best to maintain the high standards of its illustrious predecessor. A dozen years later it’s still a blast of pure escapism, and above all else, a wonderful trip.