The late 80s and early 90s were rife with R.E.M. acolytes and imitators – many a pretender to the crown tried to pass off milquetoast jangle and a vaguely Southern aesthetic in the hopes of achieving the same kind of stardom as Athens’ golden sons. Few, however, had the songs to back it up. Miracle Legion, a foursome out of New Haven, CT (and specifically the songwriting duo of vocalist Mark Mulcahy and guitarist Ray Neal) were able to forge something that stood out from the pack. Having languished in semi-obscurity for several albums (including the spectacular, skeletal “Me and Mr. Ray”, recorded as a duo at Prince’s famed Paisley Park studios), Mulcahy, Neal and a brand new rhythm section signed with insta-major Morgan Creek Records for their defining statement, 1992’s John Porter-produced “Drenched”.
All of the post-R.E.M. hallmarks are there – the guitars are crisp and jangly, the rhythm section sympathetic and largely unobtrusive, and Mulcahy’s voice a keening, adenoidal whine. Lyrically, however, the band eschewed Stipeian vagueness for a more direct and emotional road. Mulcahy delivered the lines like they were the most important thing in the world, and his sincerity does a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s easy to see how several years later renowned songwriters like Thom Yorke, Frank Black and even Stipe would line up to record Mulcahy’s songs (in an effort to defray the costs that Mulcahy had as a single father, his wife passing suddenly and leaving him with two young daughters). There is a universality to his lyrics that still come across as incredibly well-crafted and heartfelt. Musically, too, the album is muscular in a way that R.E.M. hadn’t been several years (and wouldn’t again for several more). Listen to the back half of the menacing “Everything Is Rosy” for evidence, the guitars tangling and attacking each other. This is an album that trades in bone, sinew and heart.
Sadly, for all of the effort and brilliance that Miracle Legion brought to “Drenched” the album faced a fate familiar to many in the post-Nirvana boom. Not quite rocking enough for grunge-infused airwaves and released on a label with only the loosest understanding of how to actually promote or push a record, “Drenched” died on the vine and went out of print quickly. Tours for the album were poorly arranged and the label held the band in contractual limbo for years, effectively putting the band on ice for several years until 1996’s unfocused swan-song, the unfortunately aptly-titled “Portrait of a Damaged Family”. “Drenched” remains out of print, though you can find it via some poking around on the interwebs. Mulcahy remains active as a songwriter and just released his first album in 8 years, the sweet and wonderful, “Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You”. It’s heartening to see him still fighting the good fight.