Let’s not beat about the bush. What Hey Mercedes does on their latest album, Loses Control, has already been done. Earnest vocals about heartbreak and inner turmoil that tug at heartstrings, powerful hooks that firmly lodge themselves in the brain, guitar riffs that alternate between crunchy power cords and careening melodies, and simple beats conducive to head bobbing at shows—all these elements add up to pop/rock perfect for modern rock radio. If that’s your bag, then pick up Loses Control. It won’t disappoint.
Three members of Hey Mercedes—guitarist/vocalist Robert Nanna, bassist Todd Bell, and drummer Damon Atkinson—originally played together in the popular emo band Braid, having come together prior to that at the University of Illinois. All three were fans of the Chicago punk scene. They moved on after Braid’s demise, agreeing that they wanted to keep playing music together. Braid broke up in 1999, and by the end of 2000, Hey Mercedes had added guitarist Mark Dawursk and played their first show. Prominent indie label, Vagrant, picked them up, and in April of 2001 they released their first full-length, Everynight Fire Works, to critical acclaim and a top-five spot on CMJ’s chart. The band has shared a stage with the likes of Jimmy Eat World and Saves the Day, and has been a part of the Vagrant America tour. Warped Tour ‘04? You be the judge. A few dates on Warped and their image as the quintessential emo/pop/rock quartet will be complete.
Loses Control is the band’s sophomore release on Vagrant, produced by Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie (of Radiohead, Dinosaur Jr., and Mighty Mighty Bosstones fame), and features 12 tracks of slickly put together rock with both pop and punk sensibilities. “Quality Revenge at Last” opens Loses Control and features the album’s most adventurous song structure. The high speed chorus evokes images of late-night car rides through the ‘burbs of Illinois, and with lyrics like, “In a corner of Aurora / There’s a girl all a-glowing and / She’s waiting for a car that isn’t showing / We are all on our way to save you / And meanwhile in the madness of it all / There’s a phone call coming / From a ragged Romeo in Joliet”, the picture only gets clearer. Thickly layered guitar riffs complement the urgent lyrics, and drummer Atkinson’s razor-sharp rhythms don’t let up until the three-and-a-half minutes are up.
“Knowing When to Stop” is another highlight of the album. The song proceeds at breakneck speed, with vocalist Nanna conveying his angst through the desolate lines, “The brilliance of a plan is in giving up / There’s nothing inspirational like watching angel’s drop / The hardest part of playfighting / Is knowing when to stop”. Guitarist Mark Dawursk’s replacement, Mike Shumaker, provides a haunting harmony during the chorus that, if played at a high enough volume, will send shivers down your spine.
Both “Lash Out” and “Police Police Me” stand out on the second half of the album—the aptly titled “Lash Out” speaking to the aggressor in us all and also paying tribute to Sam Cooke with the couplet “June you send me / Honest you do”. “Police Police Me” evolves into no less than an anthem for the disaffected youth listening to this record in their basements. Nanna claims defiantly, “Heads hover above podiums and / Nobody understands that they don’t stand a chance”.
Much of Loses Control travels in this vein—without the lyrical and emotional intensity of the aforementioned tracks. While the quartet has improved since Everynight Fire Works, both lyrically and instrumentally, Hey Mercedes remain defined by and relegated to the genre of aggressive but emotional pop/punk/rock. If your loyalties lie with modern rock radio, then Loses Control will be suitably enjoyable. If your tastes venture further from the mainstream, you might want to stay away from Vagrant Records altogether.