Acclaimed emo band Have Mercy doesn’t deliver much that’s new on their latest LP.
by Joe Daley
Baltimore’s Have Mercy made a name for themselves as part of the so-called “emo revival” of the 2010s. On 2013’s The Earth Pushed Back, the band demonstrated it could craft creative, dynamic songs. On 2014’s A Place of Our Own, they pushed their sound ever so slightly into poppier, more approachable territory, while retaining the creative edge that made their debut distinctive. Then, in 2016, three quarters of the band left, leaving vocalist Brian Swindle to pick up the pieces and assemble them into a record on his own. It’s fitting, then, that their latest LP should be titled Make the Best of It.
Make the Best of It is another tour through the band’s well-used bag of tricks. The band’s sound, smoldering vocals backed by spare drums and guitars that explode into huge, anthemic choruses, won them deserved praise on their first two LPs. But by now, the arrangement has become more than predictable. At least The Earth Pushed Back and A Place of Our Own bothered to toss a few acoustic tracks into the mix; Make the Best of It clings to the formula from beginning to end. Worse still, Have Mercy seems stuck on verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus song structures. The band’s earlier releases could never be confused with math rock, but here the group seems absolutely chained to convention.
That said, there are some standout tracks here. Unfortunately, they’re all crammed onto the first half of the LP. “Smoke and Lace,” “Drive,” and “Baby Grand” are compelling songs that utilize Have Mercy’s previous strengths well enough to be on par with tracks on their previous albums.
With the exception of “American Bliss,” the rest of the album ranges from boring to absolutely tasteless. “Good Christian Man,” one of the lead singles from the album, is moody to the point of cringe-worthy — even within the self-indulgent context of emo music. “Disagree” is another sonically unadventurous break-up song; standard emo fare that has been done better by countless others. “Reaper” is a crude (to the point of being bizarre) bit of songwriting — the narrator murders an ex-lover’s new boyfriend. A sample lyric: “I’ve got a funny gut feeling he won’t make it home / I cut the brakes on his Camaro.” What is a listener supposed to feel about this? To me, it is an embarrassing misstep for a band whose contemporaries have intentionally steered clear of the sort of vicious, misogynistic songwriting that characterized emo in the 2000s.
Given the circumstances, Make the Best of It came close to never existing. Would it have been better had the album never seen the light of day? I wouldn’t say so. But from a band of proven quality this is a real disappointment. Diehard fans will likely accept what they get, but those who were looking forward to the creative evolution of this group will cringe at the stagnation.
Joe Daley is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an English major focusing on alternative literature.