Posted September 30, 2017
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer
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.)
View All Music And Book Reviews By MaryNikkel_NRT | View MaryNikkel_NRT's Profile