By Daniel Pearson
Daniel Pearson has been writing songs about the state of the world. It's risky territory: one false move and you've produced something that dates the second you play it and lacks any sincerity. Describing itself as a "bold statement about the devastating effects of recession", 'Mercury State' treads a fine line before it even begins.
What you get instead is a collection of sincere and beautiful songs, at once both of its time and ageless. It's more ambitious than his debut album 'Satellites' and yet not because it's any more complex - in fact it's the simplicity of 'Mercury State' that makes it such a stunner of a record.
Opener 'Factory Floor' is tender and simple, detailing the dark discontent of dedicating your life to a job only to be "shown the door" in acoustic style reminiscent of Ryan Adams in his 'Love Is Hell' phase. It threatens to set off an album of indulgent melancholy, but the proceeding 'Promises' is a punchy and driven rock song that adds a more aggressive layer, demonstrating Pearson's distinctive ability to effortlessly switch musical moods at will, skillfully evoking the array of emotions linked to a life that is falling apart before your eyes. As the album unfolds, Pearson constructs the story of a broken man who is robbed of everything as his life crumbles around him. At times it is contradictory - the Hendrix-esque 'Hard Times', which feels like a bitter outpouring, juxtaposes against the bittersweet piano-led 'I Still Believe', which attempts a moment of optimism ("Give me strength to believe/ there's still some good in a world of deceit") but is ultimately heartbreaking. Album closer 'Lights' achieves this far more convincingly, however ("I was told I could do anything... I hope that you find whatever gets you through the darkness"), so that while stark, 'Mercury State' isn't hopeless, and the darkness is temporary.
With a more ambitious vision than 'Satellites', it's hard not to be skeptical about an album that positions itself as a statement about social inequality. But with every listen, the contradictions in the sound become its main strength: it's at once stark and soulful, punchy and tender, and never for a moment inauthentic. In a flooded singer-songwriter field, Daniel Pearson deserves a wide audience.