The Mooney Suzuki: Have Mercy

The Mooney Suzuki used to be one of the best bands around -- but this isn't the Mooney Suzuki you know and love.

The Mooney Suzuki

Have Mercy

Label: Elixia
US Release Date: 2007-06-19
UK Release Date: 2007-06-19

About five years ago, when they were at the height of their powers, the Mooney Suzuki were quite simply one of the best bands around. They combined the raw energy of the MC5 with the hooks and riffs of the early Who, and a cocksure style inspired by the glory days of CBGB's. They may have been overshadowed by the giants of the rock revival, but it always seemed as if they were on the verge of breaking through in a big way. And then, before they did, it all fell apart. The band landed a record deal with the major label suits at Columbia, who teamed them up with pop-friendly producers the Matrix (Hillary Duff, Avril Lavigne) for an embarrassing disaster of a third album. By the time the dust had cleared, drummer Will Rockwell and lead guitarist Graham Tyler had both left the band, Columbia had dropped them, and V2, their new label, essentially folded a few months later, lasting only long enough to re-release one of the group's old EPs. By the time it came time to record another new Mooney Suzuki album, songwriter and frontman Sammy James Jr. found himself all alone.

So in reality, Have Mercy is really more a Sammy James Jr. solo record than it is a true Mooney Suzuki disc. And sadly, Sammy James Jr. is no Mooney Suzuki. It seems that a lot of what made the band so good was what Rockwell and Tyler brought to the table. Without the manic pace set by Rockwell's Keith-Moon-rivalling drums and Tyler's fiery guitar work, James had no hope of recreating the same intensity the band displayed in its early days, and with Have Mercy he doesn't try. Instead, the new album sees him striking out in a new direction with his songwriting, abandoning their original tight, hook-laden fury (best displayed on early hits like "Half of My Heart" or "In a Young Man's Mind") in favour of a more personal, introspective tone.

As it turns out that's not James' strong suit. His songwriting talents are best equipped to produce raw distortion-fuelled rockers, but Have Mercy relies heavily on the slow, polished ballad. His lyrics, which were never especially deep or particularly clever, worked best in support of high octane rock and were usually about music, sex, and taking the world by storm. Here, with the drums and guitars sitting lower in the mix than in the days of Rockwell and Tyler, the lyrics -- now more likely to be about coming to terms with life as an aging rock star who was never quite a star -- are forced to take centre-stage. And they're not up to the task. ("But you'll never be older than dinosaur bones / And you'll never be older than the Rolling Stones", is one especially groan-inducing couplet from the chorus of the supremely cheesy "Rock 'N' Roller Girl".) It's not that his talents have escaped him completely -- "99%", the opening track, has a fun sing-along chorus; "This Broke Heart of Mine" is loose and catchy and probably the best Mooney Suzuki track recorded since their hey-day -- it's just that those talents only shine through in rare moments; he's not playing to his strengths.

In the end, the problem comes down to the fact that Sammy James Jr. making a Mooney Suzuki record without Rockwell or Tyler makes only a little more sense than Roger Daltrey making a solo record as the Who, or Rob Tyner as the MC5. He may have been the group's songwriter, but he was one important piece of a much greater whole. Without the other two pieces, this simply isn't the Mooney Suzuki you know and love. That band doesn't exist anymore. And while the first album by the "new" Mooney Suzuki might be a step up from their last record, Alive & Amplified -- the failed mainstream experiment at Columbia -- it's a far far cry from the exciting sounds of their glory days.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.