Mermaid Avenue are a five-piece indie rock/alt. country band hailing from Brisbane, Queensland in Australia. The band is based around songwriter and lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Peter Clarke, aided by Darren Madeo, John Doyle, Anthony Judd and Marc Besselink. Their influences are numerous but you can detect elements of bands like R.E.M., The Replacements and Wilco, along with more subtle influences like The Beatles and Britpop bands like Oasis/The Verve.
Mermaid Avenue are far more than the sum of their influences, however, which they prove across the duration of this, their debut album. It contains ten tracks, occasionally adding to the band’s staple sound with female backing vocals as well as sax and trumpet, which provides some nice sonic variety.
From the first bars of opening track and lead single Effigy, Peter Clarke’s strong vocals command your attention, reminiscent of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. Clarke also has Stipe’s gift for writing insightful lyrics about relationships.
Effigy is about falling in love with someone who doesn’t actually exist, an infatuation based on a projected image or fantasy onto a real person. It’s a very common occurrence and Clarke captures it very poetically with lines like, “I said goodbye to the skin you shed….I saw your scars before they bled….”. A great choice for a single and album opener.
The band have a real musical cohesion that you normally associate with bands who’ve been together for a long time, with Anthony Judd (drums) and John Doyle (bass) providing a rock solid rhythm section.
Second track Wagons is an excellent song about struggling to pay the bills, with a fine chorus and a nicely melodic bassline from Doyle. Shelley Robin’s guest backing vocals act as the perfect counterpoint to Clarke’s, with some lovely harmonies.
What makes Mermaid Avenue stand out is the consistent high quality of the songwriting, and the arrangements are always well crafted with a wealth of subtle detail that stands up to repeated listens. Hold on to Love is an uptempo song with an important message about appreciating your loved ones in life, while the title track Temptation and Half The Truth is much slower by contrast, a classic ‘lighters in the air’ break up song full of poignant imagery: “So high’s the fall from those gilded walls.…”.
Jealous of Heart is another contrast, this one a brooding rocker with almost a Gothic vibe. Clarke sings in a lower register which brought to mind fellow Australian Nick Cave, and this similarity extends to the dark poetry of the words: “That would let you in to run among the shadows of my sins.…”. This deeper, darker side to Clarke’s songwriting shows his artistic range and this was my personal favourite on the album.
Washed Up is a moving and melancholy alt. country-blues song that shows their Wilco influence. With just minimal lead, simple bass and strummed acoustic guitar behind Clarke, it shows that timeless adage is still true, less is more. TDK is another country-tinged song, this one about a car! If it’s a good enough subject for Neil Young (Long May You Run), it’s a good enough subject for me.
Eighth track Caroline, strangely enough, sounds a little like Neil Young & Crazy Horse (except much tighter, no offence to Crazy Horse!). Clarke gives a superb vocal performance here and the whole band gel perfectly. Darren Madeo deserves special mention for some delicious lead guitar work. Another album highlight.
Horses is one the most lyrically powerful songs on the album, about the media and the growing rise of far right politicians like Donald Trump: “They’re selling your truth on the make with your lies…those same old friends wink just for the headlines…”. The music is enriched by saxophone and trumpet giving it a Born To Run vibe.
The final track Rise is the album’s other epic, along with the title track, which Clarke describes aptly as a ‘hangover love song’: “One day we will look back and see the first kiss of our demise….”.
It has perhaps the most anthemic and memorable chorus on the album, with a superb middle section where John Doyle lets rip on bass after sustaining a very restrained but effective bassline in the upper register until then. It’s these musical sections that point towards the band’s future potential to explore their eclectic oeuvre even more, and the climactic, cathartic final minutes are the perfect way to finish.
Overall, this is one of the best alternative rock debut albums I’ve heard for quite some time. Peter Clarke is a songwriter who has honed his craft, supported by a group of musicians that bring his songs to life in a synergistic way. Most importantly, you can imagine thousands singing along and, with such a wide array of influences, the creative well won’t be running dry anytime soon. Highly recommended, especially to alt. rock and country fans.