Remember when the seven-disc Complete Funhouse Studio Sessions came out back in 1999? As far as I know, it was the first single album reissued with multiple discs of bonus material, and it seemed like complete overkill, even for one of the greatest albums of all time. Twenty-one years, and countless deluxe editions later, the reissue game has gotten so far out of control that The Secret Migration, an album not even particularly well loved by Mercury Rev fans, is getting the five-disc super-size treatment.
When it was first released in 2005 critics and fans hoped The Secret Migration would continue to build on the success of Deserter’s Songs and All Is Dream. Instead, the album they got replaced the most interesting parts of Mercury Rev’s core sound with something far more generic and bland. “Secret For A Song” opened the album with a brief glimmer of hope. It’s catchy, dramatic, and it’s got a killer chorus that could have fit nicely on any of the band’s best albums. If there’s one song from The Secret Migration you still want to hear them play live fifteen years later, it’s this one. “Across Your Ocean” follows with the opening line “And where we go from here/Is anybody’s guess,” which is prescient because it’s the point where the album starts to go off the rails. Sure, Mercury Rev had shed the drug-damaged experimentation of the early-’90s a long time ago, but songs like “Black Forest (Lorelei)” are the opposite extreme – aggressively unadventurous. Jonathan Donahue’s lyrics don’t help matters either. He had a long track record of wearing his emotions on his sleeve well before The Secret Migration, unabashedly exploring “nice” topics like romance and feelings of nostalgia for youth, but there was always an undercurrent of complexity that made it cool. Here his lyrics just deliver cringes of softness and naivety. Dragging John Lennon into this for a cheap analogy, if Deserter’s Songs and All Is Dream were Mercury Rev’s Imagine and Plastic Ono Band, then The Secret Migration was their “Beautiful Boy.” Mercury Rev are still sporadically active today, having made better albums (The Light In You) and worse ones (Snowflake Midnight) since The Secret Migration, yet they’ve never recaptured the momentum they had prior to The Secret Migration.
This new five-disc hardcover mini-book version of the album offers a lot of extras. While the less than stellar album-proper may have you doubting whether you need to hear the fourteen B-sides and outtakes that DIDN’T make the album, a cover of The Replacements’ “Androgynous” that plays to the band’s strengths and is worth hearing. A disc of demo recordings gives you stripped-down performances which are sometimes preferable to what made the album, though the sound quality makes this disc something you won’t revisit often. There’s a live disc compiled from various 2004/5 tour stops which repeats most of the album’s track-list without adding anything new to the studio versions. Lastly, there’s Hello Blackbird, the band’s soundtrack to the film Bye Bye Blackbird, which I’ve already reviewed as a standalone LP release over here.