Mercury Rev – Yerself Is Steam
This group and album came completely out of left field back in 1991 – despite being a slavish reader of the ‘cool’ music press (no internet back then) I had never heard of them until the album got reviewed (glowingly) in Melody Maker and NME. It was even album of the month in Select magazine (anyone remember that!!).
To this day it is still quite unlike anything else I have heard. Sprawlingly magnificent with it’s epic blend of grunge, prog, shoe-gazing and rock – they even had a flute player.
Think My Bloody Valentine mixed with Spacemen 3, early Pink Floyd and Dinosaur Jr and you get some idea.
The band are still going and had a lot of good press for their album Deserter’s Songs (NME album of the year in 1998), but their mercurial, talismanic and frankly disturbed singer David Baker (he once tried to spoon out the guitarists eye on a Virgin flight from London to America!) left after their second album (Boces) and the bands music since is very different to this debut effort.
I saw them shortly after the album came out (Duchess Of York in Leeds) and half way through a song David Baker, as was his want, would leave the stage and walk through the audience chatting to people on his way to the bar and get himself a pint and then walk back – the fact he could do this without being missed musically gives you some idea of the ‘prog’ nature of some of the tracks!!!
The ramshackle, feckless ethic of the early band is perhaps best summed up by what happened after this album had been a commercial success:
“We did this single (Car Wash Hair) with Dean Wareham (ex-Galaxie 500) and it worked out real well,” says Jonathan. “But later we found out that the record company had sent David Fridmann, our bassist, enough money to do a whole album. And that mother f***er took the money they’d wired us, and he sent his mom to Bermuda. And there was only enough money left to do one song. And he was crafty, he didn’t tell us until we were ready to do the second song. We thought we had the studio for another week. Now she needed a vacation, she was very uptight. But Lord knows, we’re in deep shit.”