“DD Review: Mark Mulcahy – The Possum in the Driveway.”

Score: 8.5/10


Some people just seem to shed fame like it was speeding marbles off an icy bridge. Heck, I even just looked up the theme song to Pete & Pete, for which Mulcahy apparently gets credit as the pen man, and I didn’t see his name anywhere — just Pete and Pete’s slovenly faces shamelessly soaking up all the glory (they might have presaged not being fit for the silver screen after the sitcom’s running).
Well, Mulcahy began in the ‘80s, in the band Miracle Legion of New Haven, Connecticut, so having missed the New York CBGB’s wave, his option for hitting it big probably approximated to something around moussing and curling up his hair, donning tight leather pants and… stuffing them. Ok, that was just in Spinal Tap. Still, for someone whose allegedly aural work has inspired something inconspicuously entitled “Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy . . . a tribute album to former Polaris and Miracle Legion front man Mark Mulcahy released under the Shout! Factory label in 2009,” [1] on which appear a no less studly lineup than R.E.M., Radiohead and The National, you gotta admit — this guy flies under the freakin’ radar. Appropriately enough, he’s got a song called “I am the Number 13” on here. Actually, I think his manager shared this link to recordcollectormag.com which was supposed to be an interview — I looked at the page and there wasn’t even an interview on the dang thing, just a corny little suck-up review! Wow, that’s some elusiveness! Taking the whole evading categorization thing to a whole new level, you might say. Also, Pitchfork hasn’t even reviewed The Possum in the Driveway yet. Well, pitchfork won’t shut up about HAIM these days, so that should tell you something about their credibility level.
And seeing as all these sycophantic opportunists keep droning on about the importance of Ok Computer’s 20th anniversary (as if the artistic stars are just going to realign or something), I’magaonnagowith the big guy from the town that Yale built. The coast that the ‘80s forgot. [2]
Dear Mark Mulcahy, I Love You, 2013’s unassuming full-length from the former Miracle Legion guru was a nervous, busy exemplar of focused indie rock, somewhat like Cate Le Bon with Bill Berry drumming for her (and so getting her to speed her da** songs up already). The guitar riffs jutted out with timely discreetness and the vocals were as coy and irony-laced as they were virile. If nothing else, it was a nice little conversation piece to tide us over until Wilco’s return to form on Star Wars.
So The Possum in the Driveway here. Very heartwarming. Actually, one time I saw a possum when I was exiting a dorm from a party at IU at five in the morning, and I started beating it with a stick, for no other reason than that it was the ugliest I’d ever seen in my life. Still beats “Turd in the Pool” [3], I guess. What a disarming cover shot there too — you’ve got some lighting photographic chiaroscuro, never a bad thing, gracing a nondescript swatch of abstract art beside a grizzly looking dude (who looks nothing like Mulcahy) who’s got two feathery type things protruding diagonally upwards that totally make it look like he has gay, feathery, boa looking horns. Striking mix of the rustic and the androgynous. Hmm. I promise you, this is a music review and not my queer-eye-for-the-straight-guy album art showcasing. But as always, you’re free to stop reading at any time. Well, I definitely expect something pretty focused from this guy, seeing as he’s covered by The National, R.E.M. and Radiohead and still nobody knows who the he** he is. There’s also still no wikipedia page on The Possum in the Driveway, which makes it very hard to glean any information on its production. The production, too, is an issue, very clean and clear in the vocal, rendering him often astonishingly virtuosic on the mic, even at one point sounding like Robin Pecknold. This resemblance is the case not least for the hearty harmonics we get from (perhaps from Mulcahy himself) calling to mind early Fleet Foxes circa “Quiet Houses,” “Your Protector” and the likey likes. When Mulcahy is into it, the vocals on this album are great — even at one point uttering “someone’s listening” just like Thom Yorke does on “Life in a Glasshouse” and “Supper’s waiting on the table” sounding exactly like Billy Corgan on “Thirty-Three.”
Severe melancholia, though, opens The Possum in the Driveway, along with the line in “Stuck on Something Else” “Facing up to the problem has been / A challenge for all of us”, which can’t help but, and might as well, come across as a commentary on this surreally dystopian (at least in theory) new Trump era. Later on lyrically, we get sort of a stock, cliche depiction of a girl in a trailer park (what happened to the “driveway”), but never in my life have I heard a chord progression established this early in a song, let alone album. What’s more, it’s an ambient, arhythmic theremin that bespeaks this progression. I forget what the chord progression was at this point… it was something basic… in truth it doesn’t matter too much — the song eventually morphs into a Spiritualized-style paean to loneliness, drunken hopelessness in the middle of the night, and the realization that “Even breaking even feels right all night.” If there’s one thing Mulcahy knows about, it’s breaking even. Or… so we hope. Don’t forget, Mike Doughty has a song called “40 Grand in the Hole.” Themes of drunkenness, vague homosexuality and the blissful irresponsibility of the whole thing pervade the rest of “Stuck on Something Else.” During the chorus Mulcahy keeps repeating “Sorry / I was stuck on something else,” sounding, though, very much more the artist than the guidance counselor, which should give you some idea of his sincerity level, or the level to which he cares, rather.
Elsewhere, on this relatively midtempo, plangent LP, two things stick out to me, other than this pronounced placidity and melancholy as compared to 2013’s Dear Mark Mulcahy, I Love You.
The first is the many shapes this guy’s voice takes. Not inappropriately, he’s from the same part of the country as Extreme and Nuno Bettencourt (of whom his voice explicitly reminded me on certain faux-soul [4] moments), and roughly that of the guys from Ween, whom one can’t help but call to mind in instances of any of sundry shameless white escapades into “soul” territory. But again, this music is grounded in the richest tradition of Big Star-summoning indie rock and… heck, I regret making the Wilco reference at all at this point. But I doubt they resent it.
The second weird thing about this album (which every bit fitting considering the weird time in which we live) is that although it’s produced well, although its sounds conjeal, every part seems original and inspired and the instrumentation remains varied and fresh (I’ve heard theremin, synth, guitar and trumpet through the first two songs alone), this project seems to have an almost preternatural aversion to the idea of fun. One criticism I made on the Ryan Adams album of this year was that all the songs just sounded so SEPARATE from each other — none of them segued, but even more than that, there was an undeniable feel of STERILITY at the beginning and end of songs, as if the entire enterprise is in a continuous stage of apologizing for itself. What does this amount to? Heck, I dunno. Ask Trevor Noah. I’ll tell you one thing for sure: 20 years ago I would have complained about music not having personality, but after hearing LMFAO, I’ll take humility anyway. Mark Mulcahy is definitely not laughing his a** off, though he does seem to be drinking his a** off.
I was sure this album was resigned to unwavering melancholy until the entrance of “Catching Mice,” which the drums get finally scooting along after a placid intro. “The Fiddler” is an astonishing, crooning waltz that has him sounding something like Five For Fighting’s Vladimir John Ondrasik III [5] [6] singing through some kind of magical sea shell. Actually, it’s hard to believe it isn’t Ondrasik on this song — the resemblance is uncanny. Circa ’97 (around the time of Shawn Mullins’ “Lullaby,” that is) I’d give “The Fiddler” a fighting chance of becoming a hit single, though it would obviously help to be sung by Sarah McLachlan and have some unnecessary drums thrown in.
Also, I must credit Spotify for generating a great mix of this album. Now, if they’d just clean up (or rather dirty up) that Siamese Dream file. Other highlights include a couple of key points of allusion:
For all of side a’s wonders, side b of The Possum in the Driveway does initiate a certain drag: “Conflicted Interests” is unremarkable, nondescript folk-pop, and “Cross the Street,” though commendable for its soiree into funk summoning approximately of Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera on,” also highlights Mulcahy’s penchant for as a lead singer just sort of pulling his weight and being sort of languid and general somewhat like a Scott Weiland solo album. Yup, that’s the last thing we need.
But the very deliberateness of this project of a whole, the lush, versatile instrumentation and just the palpable unwillingness you get as an impression of this guy to go mainstream in any way definitely makes this project worth checking out. And I would tell you to go get Miracle Legion’s stuff, but from listening to The Possum in the Driveway, actually, you’d never even know that it was the lead singer, so I can’t say I feel fully justified in doing that at this current juncture. One thing’s for sure: I know a lot more about neo jazz/funk/soul brothers than I thought I would after this project going into it.
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki

[2] A decade during which, mind you, Cleveland, Minneapolis, LA, Athens (GA) and Seattle each had what was arguably their own sub-culture explosion, Chicago’s and Portland’s to come in the ‘90s.
[3] A track on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St.
[4] And in a sense, being able to pull off faux-soul is even more impressive than being able to pull off real soul, provided you actually HAVE soul, but that would take the big guy upstairs himself to deem, as they say.
[5] Little known fact: Five for Fighting is actually a good musical act.
[6] And yes, I did copy and paste his name into this post… thank God for technology.

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