Mark Mulcahy – In Pursuit of Your Happiness

Mark Mulcahy
In Pursuit of Your Happiness

Clearly expounding the theory that a long-lasting musical career, albeit a commercially unsuccessful one, relies a lot more on feeling rather than surface presentation, Mark Mulcahy is undoubtedly one stubborn anti-visionary. With his early-80s to late-90s years spent fronting much-maligned (and painfully unlucky) folk-rockers Miracle Legion, Mulcahy clearly had no intention of following a linear career path when he released his much-acclaimed solo debut Fathering around 1998. Since then, live shows have been sporadic in number and quality, veering from the snooze-inducing to the sublime. Gaps between releases have grown longer due to a studio work rate that would shame a major label rock behemoth, with 2001’s sophomore Smile Sunset taking exactly a year to record. Now comes Mulcahy’s long-overdue third album, In Pursuit of Your Happiness, adorned with a front cover that puts the sleeve-designing trade into disrepute. Evidently Mulcahy is a man steadfastly set on hiding his considerable light under a bushel. But if you can make it past the foggy façade you’re in for a real treat here.

Building further on the ensemble-playing that made Smile Sunset a much more rewarding affair than the stark, somewhat underdeveloped minimalism of Fathering, this is Mulcahy finally valuing his musical ideas as much as his vocal and lyrical gifts. It certainly helps also having J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr), Joey Santiago (Pixies), and Smile Sunset drummer Pasquale D’Albis amongst the throng to give these songs some eclectic wings.

The opening title-track makes for a swooning introduction with Mulcahy’s warm towering tones set simply set against an electric accordion with almost theatrical poise. The soaring “I Have Patience” follows a little later, fusing a Miracle Legion-like jangle to the glide of Bowie’s “Heroes.” The gentle sway of the cello and piano-led “Be Sure” puts a light classical edge to the fore. The sparse winsome “A World Away From This One” echoes the better moments from Fathering, perhaps even the mighty “Hey Self Defeater.” Elsewhere “A Smack on the Lips” slips in a pretence-free jazz swing, the peppy “Propstar” delivers a dollop of Big Star-like guitar-pop bliss, and the closing “He Vanished” ebbs the record out on a soul-tinged slow tide.

Beneath all this stylistic expansion percolates the comforting wordplay of someone eternally philosophical about life’s curveballs and painfully modest of his own abilities. Mulcahy’s lyrics paint an idealistic picture of isolationistic bliss, where love is always sought but attention is best avoided. He’s “a lonely macaroon in your biscuit head,” the man keen to remind us that “it’s okay to not know everything,” and someone who believes “nothing but a silver medal will do.” Naturally he’s undervaluing himself again, because In Pursuit of Your Happiness has so many golden, and even diamond-encrusted, moments that the jewellery industry might consider stocking it in glass cabinets. Make sure you grab a copy before they do, because records this good are a seriously rare and precious commodity.