Frontman Vaden Lewis (née Todd Lewis) keeps shaking loose those Toadies chains, but he still can’t get them all the way off. Some of the songs on Mercy come a little too close for comfort. The banging, opening riff to “Still” is golden oldie “Tyler” with some spit polish. And the big choruses for which The Toadies and The Burden Brothers are known are as huge and memorable. Yet while personal style is personal style, there’s a fine line between sounding like yourself and milking your greatest riffs.
On the plus side, the venom that courses through Lewis’ voice remains intact, especially on “Good Night From Chicago” and the dark, menacing “I Am a Cancer,” which slithers like a greasy snake.
Lewis’ voice also drags those of us old enough to remember back to 1994. The difference is that The Burden Brothers go places, musically, where the Toadies simply couldn’t.
Experimentation is integral to Mercy. Along with two minute-long, carnival-esque acoustic numbers, “It’s Time” and “In My Sky,” the title track reveals a band that’s evolving from a bar bruiser to a bullet with wings (see Smashing Pumpkins). Another good example is the space-poppy “On Our Own,” which has an almost celestial, glacial guitar tone — more latter-day Echo and the Bunnymen than some hell-raisers from North Texas.
The Everclear rears its punk-by-numbers head on the commercial radio-dull “Trick of Logic” and “Everybody is Easy,” which both appear to have taken an entire two minutes to write, perform, and record.
If there’s a single track on Mercy that we hope bodes well for the band’s future, it’s the piano-driven, classic rock-sounding “Life Between.” As twin guitar melodies weave in and out of each other, the band conjures shadows of Abbey Road-era Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Elton John with Bernie Taupin. The pain in Lewis’ voice is so real you can touch it. Looks like the old boy is still crazy after all these years.