Rarely do any acts trace their roots to Connecticut, but that’s exactly where Miracle Legion found its home throughout the ’80s and ’90s. The college-based rock band would eventually be known for its work with Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete (under the pseudonym Polaris), but their one commercial album, Drenched, should not go without mention. What the history books won’t tell you is that as epic and heartbreaking this album may be, it’s nothing short of a tragedy. But let’s save the sad stuff for later, after you’ve been prepped, so it’s really impacting.
Produced by John Porter (of The Smiths fame), Drenched is an alternative rock album by all means. Similarities can be drawn to R.E.M. and Pablo-era Radiohead, but the sound, thanks to songwriter Mark Mulcahy, is both raw and honest. Songs “Snacks and Candy” and “So Good” will bring to mind the sunny cadence of Polaris, but there’s this adult-like flavor to them, despite pre-dating their Nickelodeon days. That’s what makes this side of Mulcahy intriguing; its bitterness and fragility. Collectively, these songs represent a sobering youth that’s ready to grow up… somewhat.
The record starts fast yet the loud, rambunctious punk chords are misleading. Within seconds, album opener “Sooner” decelerates into this jogging guitar scale that’s reflective, or at least reflective enough for Mulcahy to reel off on. The album’s first lines (“Keep your head down/And don’t you open the door until you hear my secret knock”) are a good indication of the biting, angsty lyrics to come, which happen to be quite timeless and magnificent. “Sea Hag” sounds like it belongs over the end credits of a Pete & Pete classic, only it’s fuller in sound, thanks to the inclusion of the piano and the choir-like chanting towards the finish. What’s more, there are a collection of clever lines here (“‘Cause when you’re sure/ you’re not sure/ I’m sure that means nothing to me”) that only support the aging theory that Mulcahy is a lost genius.
Moving on, “Snacks and Candy” is a pushier “Sooner”, but there’s something more momentous about it. It’s as if there’s this pulling nostalgia, but lyrically it doesn’t merit this feeling. If anything, it’s a four minute long historical rant, name dropping Mr. Lincoln and D-Day. “So Good” is slow, but that’s the point. Mulcahy’s vocals shine with what are essentially redundant lyrics, while the reverb laden guitar parts sound like they’re kicking and screaming to be let into the ’50s prom. It’s a song that plays with the heart, and one that shines even ten to fifteen years later.
Towards the middle, things get a little adventurous. There’s a little bit of grunge in “Everything is Rosy”, and with the wailing organ the song would fit comfortably in Pearl Jam’s 2002 effort, Riot Act. It’s mildly forgettable, but the bold instrumentation saves it from becoming filler. Think the exact opposite with “Wish a Wish”, the R.E.M.-like spinner that’s catchy on all sorts of levels. Porter’s production shines here and many of the hooks rely on this, especially the balmy guitar lines. The same could be said for “Little Blue Light”, where the acoustic guitars are treated much like Johnny Marr’s were with The Smiths records. It’s not a soft ballad, but it feels like it, and that’s the production speaking in tongues.
The next few tunes close out the album in a few different ways. “Out to Play” could have been a slow, ambient Goo Goo Dolls tune, but aside from Thom Yorke (who’s a vocal fan), no one sounds like Mulcahy, so there’s the song’s distinction. Those punk chords float back on “Velvetine” sounding racuous and involving, much like something off of Ted Leo & the Pharamacists’ 2007 album, Living with the Living. Then things take a turn, both musically and lyrically, with “Waiting Room.” Mulcahy tackles religion, spelling out the different beliefs and concluding, “god has got a lot of work to do.” The horns and very Paul Westerberg-esque guitar work is a different step for the band and might have reeled in a broader audience had Drenched been a commercial hit. However, things end on the ironic downer, “Maybelline”. Lyrically, it’s the classic “Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda”, and it’s a bit sad given the album’s later lukewarm commercial reception. When Mulcahy whines, “I could of gone around the bend/And I could of paid a home,” it’s a lil’ more dramatic sixteen years later.
Speaking of depressing, how about we come full circle? Upon the release of Drenched, the band found itself in legal limbo as Morgan Creek Records closed down, leaving the album’s promotion on the short end of the stick. As years dragged on, it found itself out of print, leaving unlucky fans to only find it in dusty used CD stores. Fortunately, things change and that’s not the case today. While Miracle Legion faded into obscurity in the ’90s, only releasing two more records through Mulcahy’s own Mezzotint label, Drenched has resurfaced through the likes of Internet music stores and online trading. Much of its attention could be attributed to the curious nostalgia that’s rather pocketed in Pete & Pete, though some may just like the band. Whatever the case, Drenched is a classic that “could have been a contender”, and one that’s sure to win anyone over who stumbles upon it.
So, please do.