Have Mercy – ‘Numb’

By Katherine Allvey

Have Mercy are finishing their 2023 on a high note. After a four year absence, the Baltimore alt-rockers are sober, healthier, older and wiser, and, most importantly, they’re still friends. “There’s a bond between us that’s undeniable,” vocalist and guitarist Brian Swindle says. “I think that’s something you can’t ever tear down at the core of it.” While a long break from making music might have hindered their chances of hitting the major labels, it meant they were able to get back to their roots and record ‘Numb’ from Swindle’s basement. Think the fire and DIY guts of their first album, 2013’s ‘The Earth Pushed Back’, but with the courage and reflection of a group who are ready to share their newly improved selves with the world. 

The first track, and first single, thankfully isn’t a Pearl Jam cover. ‘Alive’s dripping guitar diary bursts with rejection and Blink-style personal honesty while the pure notes paint the sky grey behind. Flip-side ‘Middle’ is bare, stripped of it’s pretensions in it’s missive to someone lost along the way but with enough emotive distortion to keep the message from becoming mired in nostalgic mud. “Things might seem a little crazy,” reassures Swindle, having come out the other side of the mess to produce a record that speaks volumes to his commitment to his sound. 

There’s a puzzle lurking at the heart of this album. Half the songs are a personal expression, but the rest? They’re addressed to someone who’s gone from their lives, never named or given specific features. “The more that I speak, the more I feel so numb,” Swindle sings, and you feel the desperation and sadness in your bones before the guitar lances the emotional swelling. Evidently a lot has happened to Have Mercy, and while they’re too classy to name names, there’s a hole in their lives which they are trying urgently to express before it swallows them up. The closest we get to this grasping this ghost of a person is through the introverted confessional ‘Big Surprise’. The instrumental backing is translucent in the dying light of laying bare your own failings in the hope of absolution from this mysterious angelic figure, 

The flip-side of this theme of ghost-chasing is a sense of comfort and appreciation for the threads which hold the band and their relationships together. These are celebrated at every turn, like in ‘Hey’s U2-soundalike euphoric bridge and ‘Sick Of It’s delicate constructed desire to rid yourself of misery, be it via cigarettes or mooning over a partner who doesn’t feel the same way about you. There’s a dab of Jimmy Eat World in the Have Mercy mix, and it’s especially audible in finale ‘Floating’. It’s heartfelt, emotional and demanding freedom from the restrictions placed on Have Mercy by time, experience and genre. 

‘Numb’ is an album that’s very much worth your time, especially if you’ve loved, lost and long for the basement ethic of the noughties. It’s an update to the soft waves of their early big numbers like ‘Let’s Talk About Your Hair’, or an extra layer of crunch in the emotional sundae of the Have Mercy sound. Fans will be overjoyed that their time away has been used to make space for more thought and contemplation to their music. Swindle humbly said, “this record was just us three guys writing music because we enjoy it. It’s a challenge to write something cool,” and it’s this simplicity which makes ‘Numb’ enjoyable. Sometimes you just need to thrash out your feelings, or listen to others do so, and if you’re in that place then you need to listen to ‘Numb’.

KATE ALLVEY

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