Have Mercy, the third full-length from the Mooney Suzuki, is a comically awful album comprised of tired riffs and embarrassingly goofy lyrics. Have Mercy is truly painful to listen to; a tired, empty record from a band that has clearly passed its prime.
When the Mooney Suzuki formed in New York City almost a decade ago, they were at the forefront of neo-garage rock’s burgeoning renaissance. The band quickly gained a following through the frenetic energy of its live show; early songs like “Turn My Blue Sky Black” and “Oh No” capture the ferocity of their impassioned rock assault. Riffs hold back barely concealed mania, Sammy James Junior’s voice is confident, gravelly and melodic, and tambourines call for sweaty, dancing mayhem. On their debut full-length, Electric Sweat, the Mooney Suzuki showed a precise sensibility for writing catchy, retro rock singles like “I Woke Up This Mornin’” and “In A Young Man’s Mind”.
But there’s no point in being nostalgic. The Mooney Suzuki’s sophomore full-length and first major label release, Alive And Amplified, while not reaching the heights of Electric Sweat, was still evidence that the band had a pulse. Have Mercy is the Mooney Suzuki’s bloated, lifeless attempt to convince listeners that they still know how to have a good time. It sounds like they’re having a difficult time believing it themselves.
Have Mercy starts out poorly with “99%”, a song that rips a riff off of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” before descending into a mushy, tuneless chorus. This continues for five minutes. Perhaps this is a highlight when compared to Have Mercy’s moments of shameless hokiness: on the sappy ballad “Rock N Roller Girl”, perhaps intended as a goofy fiftieth wedding anniversary love song, Johnson Junior croons “You’ll never be older than dinosaur bones…you’ll never be older than the Ramones.” But the album’s true low point comes on “Good Ol’ Alcohol” where James Junior praises the reliability of booze compared to the pot he smoked as a kid; we hear the sound of a bong bubbling in the background. Have Mercy is overwhelmingly preoccupied with age, particularly on the weepy, nostalgic “The Prime Of Life” and boring, bluesy “Down But Not Out”. From the desperation with which the Mooney Suzuki try to prove that they’re still fun and youthful, you’d think that they were baby boomers rather than just in their early thirties.
The Mooney Suzuki’s flair for garage pop songwriting has clearly waned on Have Mercy; perhaps they’re worn out after almost ten years of taking their raucous live show on the road. Have Mercy is an album by a band plagued by self-doubt—aware of the difficulty of sustaining a successful rock career over time, they’ve become hyper-conscious of the need to maintain their ‘fun’ image. Consequently, their buffoonish effort to uphold a sense of goofy theatricality falls flat.
– Mary Mulholland