Mark Mulcahy
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Mark Mulcahy


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"Mark Mulcahy - Live at the Sussex Arts Club, Brighton"

If Mark Mulcahy didn't exist, then somebody might have had to invent him to please that certain kind of late-thirtysomething British male rock fan for whom rock'n'roll nirvana is represented by any singer-songwriter with a US passport and a legacy of commercial underachievement. Mulcahy certainly looks the part of an Americana cult hero - suit, semi-acoustic guitar, hair straggling about his shoulders - and his career ticks all the right boxes.

His 1980s band, Miracle Legion, were critically acclaimed, but never matched the success of peers REM. Their albums are now impossible to find. The press release for his recent solo album, In Pursuit of Your Happiness, notes that Nick Hornby devoted a chapter of his book 31 Songs to Mulcahy, a boast that's hard to read without thinking: yeah, that figures.

And yet, Mulcahy clearly has more to offer than the snob value of obscurity. Stripped of the cellos and french horns that colour In Pursuit of Your Happiness, the sound is stark, flipping between a spellbinding fragility - on In the Afternoon, his drummer plays a solo on a recorder, of all things - and a muscular, undistorted guitar chug in a way that recalls the Velvet Underground's eponymous third album.

Mulcahy's voice, as Radiohead's Thom Yorke has noted, is a pretty remarkable instrument in itself: high, soulful and sweet as honey. His songs, meanwhile, have a weirdly haunting quality of their own. Hurry Please Hurry sounds like a love ballad, but turns out to be about the relationship between a sports fan and his team. Cookie Jar uses biscuits as an unlikely metaphorical tool to berate a shady, self-serving acquaintance. The crowd - in which a certain kind of late-thirtysomething male figures heavily - go nuts. You can't help wonder why everyone else isn't going nuts as well. -

"Ciao My Shining Star - A rather beautiful and wholly appropriate tribute."

Mark Mulcahy has never enjoyed the recognition he deserves in the UK. Through the Miracle Legion, Polaris and his solo work, he has built up an impressive body of largely ignored material. The proceeds from Ciao My Shining Star, an album featuring alt-rock superstars covering his work, are to help him bring up his twin daughters following the sudden death of his wife, Melissa, in 2008.

It’s clear to see the regard in which Mulcahy is held by his peers through a glance at the album’s cast list. You get Vic Chesnutt, Frank Turner and Elvis Perkins – but to have Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Frank Black, The National and Mercury Rev involved underlines his worth more prominently. And there are 20 additional performances to download.

There is much to relish: Yorke’s version of All for the Best is delivered with the amalgam of sweetness and discordance that he’s explored since Kid A. Dinosaur Jr. slash through a suitably boisterous version of Miracle Legion’s debut release, The Backyard, awash with J. Mascis’s scything, distorted guitar. The National take Ashamed of the Story I Told and turn it into a storming piece of Americana, speeding up the Polaris song and removing any of the original’s tentativeness. It starts like The Beta Band and ends like Bruce Springsteen. With cellos.

Frank Turner’s bald reading of The Quiet One emphasises the humour in Mulcahy’s writing – “What kind of drugs have you done tonight / you’ve got a face like a lava light” – but it is long time friend Stipe who comes out on top. His poignant version of Everything’s Coming Undone reminds you of the time when he was one of the world’s most important vocalists.

All 21 songs, bursting with love, hurt, loss, sarcasm and melody, are staggering in their intimacy and invention. Ciao My Shining Star is a rather beautiful and wholly appropriate tribute to an under-valued songwriter, who may now receive an appropriate level of attention.

One champion, novelist Nick Hornby, wrote in his 31 Songs that Mulcahy’s music was “only ever going to find its audience through word of mouth and recommendations by the like-minded”. It’s true. After listening to these sympathetic renditions of his tunes, you long for a world where Mark Mulcahy is very, very famous. -

"Album Review: Ciao My Shining Star – The Songs of Mark Mulcahy"

“The songs of Mark who?”

It’s a question that fans of the artists on this tribute record have probably been asking themselves ever since this project was first announced. And if you’re equally guilty of being unfamiliar with Mark Mulcahy, join the club or legion as the case may be. Consequence of Sound has long championed Mulcahy’s work as the front man of college radio sweethearts Miracle Legion, the creative force behind Polaris (the house band for the cult Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete), an acclaimed solo artist, and most recently, an opera writer. And despite our frightening amount of clout in the music world, Mark Mulcahy is still no closer to being a household name. But while he may be Mark Who? to most music fans, to some of the more innovative artists and bands in the industry, he’s a friend, colleague, and creative influence. Simply put, when Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, and Frank Black take time out to record your songs, you’ve left some sort of meaningful mark on music.

Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for this long overdue tribute to come together. Mulcahy’s wife, Melissa Rich, passed away a year ago, which left Mulcahy to care for his two daughters and also raised questions about his future as a musician. The idea for a tribute album originated with Nathaniel Smalley, a Mulcahy fan who began contacting artists about contributing to a project that would benefit Mulcahy’s family. The response was truly overwhelming, as a wide array of artists came together to put out two discs worth of material for this cause. The results, as might be expected, are a bit of a mixed bag, but there is an endless amount of heart and good will on Ciao My Shining Star, which is not only a tribute to Mulcahy’s music but also a fitting way to remember Melissa Rich.

Thom Yorke’s take on Miracle Legion’s “All for the Best” is the most anticipated cover on this record, and the Radiohead front man doesn’t fail to put his own stamp on the song. Yorke strips the original of its pop sensibilities in favor of an electronic flavor, which somehow manages to preserve the song’s intended sentiment. Perhaps most interesting, though, is how much Yorke’s voice sounds like Mulcahy’s at times. Yorke has credited Mulcahy as a significant influence on his singing style, and this is as evident as ever on “All for the Best”.

Like Yorke, Michael Stipe, Frank Black, and Dinosaur Jr. all turn in creative interpretations of Mulcahy’s songs. On “Everything’s Coming Undone”, Stipe takes three lyrics from Mulcahy’s version and builds a sonic anthem around them that culminates in a wall of sound by song’s end. Black delivers a more brooding and theatrical version of Mulcahy’s narrative song “Bill Jocko”, which takes on a new sense of urgency as Black bellows, “Why do I have to stay?/And why does she get to go?” “The Backyard” was Miracle Legion’s first taste of college radio success, and J Mascis & Co. does this classic justice, delivering a heavier and trippier version that maintains all the addictive appeal of the original.

Other highlights include more faithful renditions of Mulcahy’s work. The National’s “Ashamed of The Story I Told” adds piano and more pronounced percussion to the Polaris original for what might be the record’s best track. Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne) sticks to the perfect pop script of “Cookie Jar”, fleshing the song out with beautifully layered backing vocals. The gentle and subdued “Wake up Whispering” highlights the back half of the album, with a fuzzy intimacy that makes it sound like Ben Kweller is strumming and singing in the room with you.

Cover songs can serve as a good introduction to an artist, but Ciao My Shining Star doesn’t really give those new to Mulcahy a real clear picture of what his music is about. Although Mulcahy typically plays a good portion, if not all, of the instruments on his albums, his voice is the instrument that his songs are really built upon. An extreme, though obvious, example would be the record’s title track. Unbelievable Truth does a straightforward and beautiful version of “Ciao My Shining Star”, but it’s a completely different animal when Mulcahy performs it in a falsetto; it becomes unlike anything else you’re likely to hear-strange and somehow perfectly natural at the same time. The covers on this record may give you an inkling of what Mulcahy is about, but until you hear him sing his songs, you’ve only scratched the surface.

There’s plenty to enjoy on this tribute record, but the real question is whether or not this heartwarming effort will help get Mulcahy back in the studio and on stage. The chances seem good at this point. “I just have a lot of stuff that I want to put out,” Mulcahy told Eric R. Danton of The Hartford Courant. “Time was expendable to me for a long time, but now it’s a luxury.”

A new Mulcahy album? That would truly be all for the best. -

"Album Review: Miracle Legion – Surprise Surprise Surprise [Reissue]"

One of the major surprises of the 2010 holiday season was the remastered, digital release of Miracle Legion’s 1987 full-length debut, Surprise Surprise Surprise. Despite the buzz created by comparisons to early R.E.M. and rising popularity on ‘80s college radio, the now-defunct band never managed to become a household name. However, through lead singer Mark Mulcahy’s acclaimed solo work and modern-day time capsules like YouTube, the band has managed to maintain a loyal legion of fans, and growing numbers of listeners continue to serendipitously stumble upon Miracle Legion’s music online and get transported 20 years back to a song, record, or show that they once loved but had perhaps put out of mind.

Surprise Surprise Surprise is an album of many charms, but what stands out most is how comfortable and at home the band is in their sound for a debut record. Listen to opener “Mr. Mingo” and you already hear the essence of Miracle Legion—a sound that would evolve on future records like Me and Mr. Ray and Drenched. Dreamlike pop and folk meet alt-country and crystallize in such a natural and effortless way. Ray Neal’s guitars and the beat are warm and steady, never running rampant but not meandering either. Mulcahy’s gorgeous vocals, neither on top of you nor buried, range from plaintive and wistful to soaring and echoing, delivering passive lines like “It’s not important to me now/At least that’s what I tell myself when I am feeling down/I’m not in love enough to stay/But I’m in love enough to know that I should go away.”

“All for the Best” (recently covered by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke) follows in similar vibrant fashion. Like on earlier single “The Backyard”, Mulcahy draws on nostalgic, youthful imagery like made beds, cutting grass, and porches to describe a time and relationship. The track culminates in a hazy swirl of vocal parts, with the continual pleading of “Say you love me” resolved by the telling closing line, “Let’s just say you love me.”

Bright arrangements on the opening tracks somewhat mask the fact that melancholy hangs over so much of this album. A ubiquitous, palpable yearning is often met head-on by moments of resignation and paralysis. “If I could, I would change my spots,” sings Mulcahy on the glowing “Truly”, arguably the record’s finest track. His playful lyrical twists perfectly convey that moment when you truly know that something won’t work out, despite all the wishing in the world. “I’ve imagined it a hundred times because/I’m not frightened, but I wish I was.”

Much of the back half of Surprise Surprise Surprise takes on a decidedly harder edge and a more ominous and brooding tone to match Mulcahy’s bleaker musings. The fragmented “Storyteller” teeters on edge, Mulcahy sounding paranoid and desperate in defense of a troubled girl from the past. “Country Boy” haunts with its biting interplay between driving guitars and harmonica and once again features childhood imagery—the girl next door, a dollhouse, and haunted houses—only now any nostalgia or innocence seems to be abandoned and replaced by a sense of things having gone wrong. “But that was way back when all the kisses were lined up in a row, row, row/Where are they now?/Well, how should I know?”

The spare, acoustic “Little Man” closes the record on a somber note. “I wear your clothes, but they don’t fit me,” sings Mulcahy, his voice sounding like it’s bouncing off the walls of a cramped cellar, “and I’m trying to be what I should be.” This line sums up so many of the record’s protagonists. Defeated and misguided as they often seem (or even admit to being), there is tireless longing in them—the indomitable Bellowesque “I want, I want, I want”—and no willingness to throw in the towel.

The singing and inventive harmonies are breathtaking throughout on Surprise Surprise Surprise, and the playing is full of life without relying upon infectious hooks or overly memorable choruses. This record is a resonating statement of frustrated youth told in the language of understatement. Its emotional weight is deceptive in that there are no knockout punches thrown; rather, the album is a series of landed jabs that accumulate and take their toll on the listener.

For many, listening to Surprise Surprise Surprise will be like bumping into a really good old friend who hasn’t been heard from in years. For newcomers, it will be an introduction to a gifted singer and a unique sound that still holds up more than two decades later. Whichever category you might fall under, don’t be surprised if this record from long ago turns into one of your 2011 favorites. -

"Album Review: Mark Mulcahy - In Pursuit of Your Happiness"

Like Mark Lanegan, the former Miracle Legion frontman Mark Mulcahy has overcome a fractured recording schedule - in his case, an unhelpful label's imposition of a two-year hiatus in effect froze his band out of existence - to establish a solo career. Since
Smilesunset (2001), he's apparently co-written (with cartoonist Ben Katchor) and starred in two operas, the collaborative nature of which spills over into
In Pursuit of Your Happiness, where friends, including Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis and the Pixies' Joey Santiago, help him to realise this batch of brooding, self-lacerating reflections, delivered in a cracked, tremulous tone. The settings favour the sombre timbres of cello, piano, organ and accordion. The title track sets the tone of disquieting dissatisfaction, its nod to narcotic temptation ("Taken more than you confess/ In pursuit of your happiness") carrying over into "Cookie Jar", where the languid rhythm guitar and organ are decorated by a poignant French horn break. His problem is

Like Mark Lanegan, the former Miracle Legion frontman Mark Mulcahy has overcome a fractured recording schedule - in his case, an unhelpful label's imposition of a two-year hiatus in effect froze his band out of existence - to establish a solo career. Since Smilesunset (2001), he's apparently co-written (with cartoonist Ben Katchor) and starred in two operas, the collaborative nature of which spills over into In Pursuit of Your Happiness, where friends, including Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis and the Pixies' Joey Santiago, help him to realise this batch of brooding, self-lacerating reflections, delivered in a cracked, tremulous tone. The settings favour the sombre timbres of cello, piano, organ and accordion. The title track sets the tone of disquieting dissatisfaction, its nod to narcotic temptation ("Taken more than you confess/ In pursuit of your happiness") carrying over into "Cookie Jar", where the languid rhythm guitar and organ are decorated by a poignant French horn break. His problem is crystallised in "I Have Patience": "The things I love don't bring me joy/ The things I want, I want to destroy". It's a tough conundrum, but then, as he notes in "4:04", "Mission unaccomplished/ 'Cos the best things happen in reclusion/ Leave us alone".

"Album Review: Mark Mulcahy - SmileSunset"

The mid-'80s also washed ashore the Miracle Legion, a quartet who were at first perceived to be Connecticut's reply to REM. Mark Mulcahy, their main vocalist, has since got much stranger, and invited troublesome tonal comparisons with Tim Buckley, which will no doubt continue on this sophomore solo album.

In truth, his headspace is much darker, with a remembered Southern adolescence, and familial woes shading these introspective, devotional and
often attitudinal sketches from
a life. The singer-songwriter with
a sense of melody who inhabits 'Until I Say So' is also the paranoid, suicidal believer on
'I Hate To Needy Need You'. And he's out there on his own.


"Album Review: Mark Mulcahy - Fathering"

Mark Mulcahy is the former lead singer of Miracle Legion, the band responsible for such jangly indie-rock classics as Surprise Surprise Surprise (1987) and Me And Mr. Ray (1989). For his solo debut, Mulcahy chose to truly go it alone, playing all the instruments on this collection of ten original compositions. The result is a glorious and engaging pop-rock gem.

The album begins with the 1-2 punch of “Hey Self Defeater” and “Hurry, Please Hurry”, a couple of delicate ballads featuring gently strummed guitars. Mulcahy’s poignant, expressive voice is in fine form throughout Fathering, the lead vocals often meshing beautifully with his own backup singing. He even has the confidence (or gall) to sing “Ciao My Shining Star” in a falsetto…and it works.

“Bill Jocko” weaves back and forth between a theatrical Tom Waits vibe and a toe-tapping tale of drunk driving. Here, the infectious music provides a sharp contrast to the gruesome subject matter. The same is true for the gently swaying melody of “Apartment Murders”. Sprinkled throughout the album are subtle touches of tambourine, wooden flute and maracas.

The lyrics to “I Woke Up In The Mayflower” provide a commentary on Mulcahy’s solo career and make reference to his songwriting partner in Miracle Legion, Ray Neal: “Could I make a comeback, based on what I have done?/And can I have the keys, please, to get out of this dungeon?/Will I be alternative, if I change myself around from year to year?/Or will I be like Mr. Ray, and get myself on outta here?”

Mulcahy’s debut ends with a hidden track containing samples of spoken-word recordings. Miracle Legion’s swan song, Portrait Of A Damaged Family (1996), closes with a similar hidden track. While this may suggest some continuity with his recorded past, Mark Mulcahy has definitely moved into a new era. -


Fathering (1997) CD on the Mezzotint Label/Loose RecordsC.O.D. (1999) 7-inch vinyl on Lissy Records
I Just Shot Myself in the Foot Again (2000) EP on Mezzotint
Smilesunset (2001) CD/LP on Mezzotint/Loose
In Pursuit of Your Happiness (2005) CD on Mezzotint/Loose
Love's the Only Thing That Shuts Me Up (2005) EP on Mezzotint



Mark Mulcahy makes a long-awaited return to the UK from his home in Springfield, Massachusetts for a brief series of shows and in doing so takes a break from recording his new album - the first since 2005's In Pursuit Of Your Happiness. The former Miracle Legion (a band much-lauded by the likes of Thom Yorke and Michael Stipe) frontman's solo career began with Fathering - an album that received un...See more

"Mulcahy offers a timely reminder of what's still possible, the extent to which great music can still blow your fucking mind"
Allan Jones - editor, Uncut

"Mark Mulcahy is crouching at the rear of the stage, tuning up, taking the occasional sip of water .. He slouches up to the microphone wearing Tom Waits's 1974 haircut and holds his mouth open for six seconds. It looks, for a moment, like he's
going to greet us with a standard "How's everyone doing?" banality, but then something extraordinary happens: he sings. The entire crowd appears to hold their breath and freeze simultaneously, as if they've come to watch a singer-songwriter, only to find him replaced by a professional trapeze artist. The former Miracle Legion frontman has the kind of male voice you just don't hear anymore: breathy, acrobatic, sensual, utterly, rapturously in-touch"
The Guardian