I’d not been tempted to get the 2011 deluxe reissue of Mercury Rev‘s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ until I saw it in Concerto in Amsterdam when on holiday. (My one fairly brief music shopping trip on holiday ended in slight disappointment when the great indie shop that used to be across the road from Concerto seemed to have closed.)

But it wasn’t the normal deluxe package that tempted me, but rather the 3 CD set that also includes a live set recorded at the Barrowlands – a bit more of that later.

I’m not going to bother talking about the main LP beyond saying that it’s a classic. But the reason that I hadn’t bothered with the reissue before last week was that I rather feared that the second CD of demos and alternative versions might be a little, well, insubstantial. And despite a number of unreleased songs being included in the set, that’s pretty much the case.

Let’s start with the alternative versions. A couple of the songs (‘Hudson Line’ and ‘Delta Sun …’) are represented by rough mixes of the song and ‘Hudson Line’ in particular sounds pretty rough! ‘Delta Sun …’ meanwhile is much closer to the final version and therefore less interesting.

‘Endlessly’ is a fine song but the rough early version here lacks the spooky atmospherics of the final recording. ‘ Opus 40’ is much more like the finished version but with added organ. It works well as an alternative, if not superior, version of the song.

By far the most interesting song on the CD is a version of ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ which, despite being of poor sound quality essentially retains the basic melodic structure but places it in a far more psychedelic backing.

The 2 remixes are in general more intriguing than the alternative takes. The DJ Nickel remix of ‘Pick Up If You’re There’ extends the song somewhat, giving it a different character, whilst the Bill Laswell remix of ‘Holes’ is as valid a take on the song as the original.

Of the new songs a handful are short instrumentals (‘Piano Vs Telephone’, ‘Looking Back Now I See’ and ‘Night on Panther Mountain’). It’s easy to see why they never made the finished LP because none of them match up to those which made the LP. The two songs with lyrics, ‘Judging By The Moon’ and ‘A Soft Kiss (For Waking Up)’ both feel very under developed. Deserted songs indeed.

So, as is often the case, the second CD is very much for completists and it doesn’t shine much in the way of light on the original record.

What tipped the balance in favour of me getting the package though was the chance to get the live CD ‘Beyond The Swirling Clouds’ which has only been available in very limited quantities in the UK.

However it’s definitely not the live set that would have made this package perfect. That would have been a contemporary record from 1998-99, perhaps the full recording of the band’s show at T in the Park (complete with ‘Yerself Is Steam’ songs).  Such a recording would have contrasted the massive differences between the DS-era live shows and their parent LP.

Instead we get a show that’s not even a recording of the band’s first Barrowlands show in support of ‘All Is Dream’ but rather the next one. As a consequence there’s only 4 tracks from DS in the live set and, not surprisingly a large chunk of the then current ‘Secret Migration’ LP.  Packaging this show with ‘Deserter’s Songs’ doesn’t make a lot of sense other than as a way of highlighting some of the ‘Secret Migration’ material. But in truth all it does instead is rather highlight where the band’s decline started as the songs are on the whole OK rather than brilliant.

So the 3 CD set is a decent package and, if you’re interested, it seems still to be available at the Concerto website for 20 euros and presumably elsewhere on the continent (or here from Amazon in the UK).

If you want to hear Mercury Rev in their 1999 prime, then go here.

You can buy the UK deluxe edition (without the live CD) here.

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