Carey Mercer will never write that perfect three-minute pop song. Or, maybe his sweating, bustling compositions sound like perfect three-minute pop songs to him. Perhaps, he picks up his guitar every time with the intention of writing the next “Louie, Louie”, but what comes out is something closer to “Ella Guru”.
Take, for example, the track “Three Men Drown in the River” from his latest solo effort, Skin of Evil, recorded under the name Blackout Beach. An echoing electric guitar rings throughout the song, sliding and shivering in a raw blues vibe. All the while, Mercer spills out a fractured melody and lyrics laden with dizzying imagery (“Does Donna lie upon the bank in selfish slumber?/Three men drown in the river/Damian, William and Harold S. Dee”). It refuses to follow a straight line to its climax, instead withering off into the distance like the end of a fireworks burst.
Mercer’s music isn’t as quickly forgotten as a 4th of July celebration. As hard as his approach to songwriting may be to grasp, the chase is really the fun part. And he’s never felt more slippery and elusive as he does here. The lyrics throughout this album have the temper of modernist poetry, with Biblical and Greek imagery sprinkled throughout.
Mercer keeps returning to a character named Donna, a dangerous and alluring figure that seems to lure men to their demise. What does bob to the surface is a lot of heartache and open wounds that Mercer must be carrying with him (“She wanted to sail way to some other cape/some other town/some other series of towns that suck the little highway into the ground”).
He matches this with music that doesn’t sit still or rest comfortably in a groove. It kicks and pulls at the box we try to put it in. It is an odd alliance of gospel, blues, pop and experimental rock. It’s more modern art than pop. It’s no museum piece, however. Mercer sounds like he wants you to get up close and run your fingers over its cracked and bumpy surface.