Swervedriver: Mezcal Head
A UK analogue of Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr., Swervedriver were bruisers who could also bliss out and pen a tune of mighty beauty. Most people know them, if at all, for their upliftingly slack 1990 alterna-hit "Rave Down." That remains the band's most conspicuous contribution to rock history, but Swervedriver (who reunited last year) went on to record their best album soon after that with 1993's Mezcal Head, reissued now with four bonus cuts.
Mezcal Head followed Swervedriver's 1991 debut, Raise, and it found the quartet continuing to infuse their heart-on-sleeve, pedal-to-the-metal hard rock with ethereal shoegaze textures. By this point, they'd mastered the ability to sound both robust and airy, thanks partially to acclaimed producer Alan Moulder and to Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge's complementary girthful 'n' gauzy guitar interplay. Frontman Franklin's limited, glum voice possessed surprising liftoff boost when he needed to elevate choruses to towering peaks of poignancy. All of these traits reach their zenith on "Duel," one of the greatest rock songs of the '90s. It's an adroit example of thrilling roller-coaster dynamics and surging rock power. Franklin's opening line, "You've been away for so long/You can't ask why," and refrain, "I'm going down, down to the marketplace/Going to learn how to give," brilliantly show how he could pack maximum emotion into mundane words.
Now, bonus tracks on reissues often disappoint, but for Mezcal Head, we get two Swervies classics: "Never Lose That Feeling" and "Planes Over the Skyline." The former is breezy bliss rock that morphs into a tensely serene jazzadelic meditation over its nearly 12 minutes; the latter is the most majestic, filmic thing Swervedriver ever did (which is saying something), a worthy counterpart to Hüsker Dü's similarly soaring and yearning "Up in the Air."