Mercury & Lightning, the latest offering from McMillan, reminds us why we love great songwriters; The great ones find a way to put new words to private musings and desperate feelings until the songs themselves begin to live in our bones.
The album title was pulled from Roman mythology. "Mercury is the god of financial gain, commerce, communication, travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves", says McMillan. "If something is hard to catch, understand or lock down, it's known to be 'mercurial' or 'like Mercury.' The story of the new record begins with a conversation about all the things we run after, give our lives to - even die for - that often seem so mercurial and mysterious." And John Mark would know; This being his 7th studio album, each new record seems to reveal a man chasing a new set of questions we should have been asking ourselves all along. On the heels of releasing his single "No Country" the week before the presidential election, John Mark said, "There was a point when I was afraid to finish this song. I abandoned it multiple times asking myself, 'How many people really want to hear a white guy singing about being marginalized?' Sure, I know how it feels to be lonely and misunderstood, but I've certainly never been discriminated against. I've never been asked and certainly not forced to vacate the luxuries and safety of my middle class suburban situation. So, what am I even singing about? Refugees? Sure. Racism? Yes. Immigration? Sure. Politics? Maybe. Relationships? Aging? Yes and yes. But ultimately I think that the song is summed up in one line: 'Do you see me?' It's the cry of all of us - to be known."
Click here to add a video. Click to add lyrics if not listed.
Finding Wilderlove| Posted September 30, 2017
The intermission has lasted a full three years since we had truly new material from John Mark McMillan, but this year's Mercury & Lightning picks up from 2014's Borderland without missing a beat. You'll still find the cerebral musings of a spiritual wanderer here, but those concepts get applied to the very tangible realities of things like relationships, the current refugee crisis and ideological divides.
Lead single "Wilderlove" has set that tone well, declaring "the wilderlove is hidden within us / we wrestle with it, we wrestle with it" over a dreamy soundscape of muted guitar, drums and harp. That theme of the daily struggling with the divine is echoed in opening title track "Mercury & Lightning," which expresses an ache for true wonder and the supernatural. "Fumbling Towards the Light" serves as a near-perfect sequel to "Borderland," capturing the innate spiritual instincts we live by.
McMillan's artful wrestling with social issues is perhaps more pointed here than any of his past efforts, but always still refreshingly humble and personal. "Gods of American Success" has a delightful 80s-reminiscent synth pad and deceptively cheerful melody as it mourns a culture that is perpetually grasping and coming up empty. Album highlight "No Country" encapsulates the heart-rending cry of the displaced the world over. "Body in Motion" plays as an indictment against today's Pharisaical elitists.
Critiques are always pointed first and foremost at the artist himself however, and the theme of needing the Spirit of Christ to overcome the death in us is captured through a set of tracks dead center in the album: "Persephone," "Death in Reverse" and its reprise "e s r e v e r n i h t a e d." "Persephone" references the traditional deity of springtime, death and rebirth, continuing the mythological themes introduced by "Mercury & Lightning." "Death in Reverse" offers the core truth all the other songs on the album are spun around: "But You raise me like a baby / like a fiery phoenix bird / oh, and You lift me up like Lazarus / You love me like death in reverse."
It's easy for albums with rich and weighty lyrical material to become difficult to listen to, but John Mark McMillan is a master song-crafter with the ability to balance reflection with a genuinely enjoyable listening experience. From the quirky tones of "Raging Moon" to the upbeat moments in "Gods of American Success" to the almost cinematic scope of "Magic Mirror," Mercury & Lightning is consistently both spiritually resonate and genuinely listenable from beginning to end of its 14 track runtime.
The Bottom Line: With Mercury & Lightning, John Mark McMillan has yet again proven himself to be one of the most profound voices currently singing at the intersection of art and spirituality. This project sees the songwriter giving voice to his hallmark themes of struggling through redemption like never before, matched at every step of the way by musical experimentation and thoughtful lyricism that make listening a sacred joy.
Song to Download Now:
"Death in Reverse" (Get it on iTunes here.)