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REVIEW: "NUMB" by Have Mercy

Photo credit: Rick Barnwell

"NUMB", the comeback album from rock band Have Mercy, is an outpouring of heartfelt emotion. It tackles tough topics like grief in title track "Numb" and delves into how hard toxic relationships are to leave but persevering and getting out. Sonically, the album is more upbeat sounding than their previous releases (though "Drive" from "Make the Best of It" would fit right in on "NUMB"). The lyrics, though, are not and that's part of the fun of the listening experience. I'll be going through the album track-by-track, talking about what each song means and which are my favorites.

“Alive”, released as a single on October 13, is about the pull of a toxic relationship and breaking free of that, no matter what. It sounds joyful but also wistful at the same time. The lyrics put the joyful part to rest immediately. You can feel the emotion and grit in lead singer Brian Swindle's voice at the end of the first verse: "It's taking everything in me not to pick up the phone." The way he emphasizes phone and "hello" in the chorus sells the feeling in the song. The lyrics also suggest infidelity in the lines: “I thought I knew you/Who'd you run to when things got heavy?” and “Speak the truth/You haven't done it since the day that I met you…” It continues saying he can't make the same mistake again. The guitar work is especially well-done and this song has become a favorite.

“Numb” is about grief and how it presents itself. Sometimes, when it's fresh, it can leave you numb, as this line goes: “The more I speak, the more I feel numb.” You don’t feel anything for years and then it can hit you all at once as this line goes: “Do you ever wonder why/old pictures make you cry?” The guitar lends to the melancholy feeling of the song. Swindle continues to shred the listener's heart with the line "I shouldn't have to tell you you love me...". Lyric wise, this is one of my favorites.

“Hey” is about wanting to get back in touch with an old flame. It sounds cheerful when it first starts but if you listen closely to the lyrics, they tell a different story. For example, take the first two lines: “It's been awhile, how ya been? It's been a minute since I have smiled and seen some friends…” The listener can feel the desperation in Swindle's voice on a line in the chorus: "God I love you, God I need it." The exceptional drumming punctuates the song perfectly. There’s also some impressive bass work from bassist Nick Woolford.

“Friday” has a great nostalgic guitar and lyrics in the same vein:  It’s about feeling that rush of youthful energy combined with the heady combination of cigarettes, friends, drinking, and feeling that loving feeling as can be seen in the lines: “You had some pent up energy/I had the rush of seventeen/with a handful of friends and a bottle that's empty” and “Would you say it is evident I can't make it go away?/I'm in love with you again/I'm in love with you again/If it's okay I'd like to tell you that/I can't think of a better way…” It’s another favorite because of the perfect way the music matches with the lyrics and the mini guitar solo toward the end.

 Between the title and the "I'm in love with you again" lyric, it recalls The Cure's 1992 release "Friday I'm in Love"

If you've been keeping up with my reviews, you know of my massive dislike of love and acoustic songs. “Big Surprise”, though, is heartfelt, slower than the rest of the tracks, and is impossible not to like. It's about a lost love and being yourself: “I'm sorry I can't be anybody but me/I'm trying/I can't be anybody but me” and “If I give it up, don't let you down/I keep my truth and stick around/Will you let me in just for the night?/I know I'm desperate for love, I just need you.” Again, the emotion in Swindle’s voice sells the track and the stripped down atmosphere of the song. This would be a nice acoustic moment live. 

Middle” was released as a single on November 10. It’s not my favorite because of the way the chorus is sung but the lyrics are well-written. They evoke the same emotions the previous tracks did: “It's been a long time, can't remember/It's been a long time in this room/And I'm so scared you/wouldn't find me there/It's been a long time without you.” Swindle wants better for himself but keeps finding himself in the middle of an intimate moment with the person he’s singing about. The drumming here is also superb. 

“I Can't Stay” is as angsty as you might imagine with the mournful guitar opening. It's a perfect song for when you're in your feels. It's about loving someone who's going through a hard time and not wanting to push them away but also not wanting to be around as they destroy themselves, whether it's drugs or something else. The lyrics say as much: “If you can't help yourself then I can't stay/there's always something in the way. You're the only one I'll love forever.” It's the biggest emotional moment on the record and has become a favorite of mine, especially lyrically.

“Sick of It” is as doleful as the guitar and, especially, the piano suggest. It’s about knowing someone’s bad for you and getting yourself out of that situation even though it’s hard. It’s also about learning from the mistakes in that relationship. It'll wring your heart out with lines like: “Left all the love I had, my things in plastic bags” and “You call it's not so bad/and no I can't admit it I just know I can't quit you now/but keep telling me how I'm gonna be okay…” Sometimes you just need a song that makes you feel something and this is that one.

“Hit the Ground” pulls no punches with the guitar fading in and the opening line: “My hands always shake, I'm a little unwell.” The song is about sobriety and/or dealing with a difficult situation in life and how it affects the people who care about you. Swindle “doesn’t know why [the person in question] stuck around/when it's so easy to just hit the ground.” He continues by saying: “and run away/’cause this ain't the place you thought it was/I can't make you stay if you're ready to leave/no it ain't so easy doing nothing with me.” That’s a hard battle to fight, being with someone who’s getting sober. There’s such a helplessness that comes over you when you realize they have to do it for themselves and all you can do is be there, if you can. There’s also more remarkable bass work by Woolford. 

“Floating”, the closing track on the record, has rousing drums, especially in the intro. Like a lot of the songs on the record, it’s also about being tangled in a toxic relationship: “And say you love me again/you just don't know how it happens/maybe I'll see one day in the street and we both feel the same/but don't give me hope for things you don't see in the future/just let me go, I won't remember your name…”

It’s an odd way to close the album as it doesn’t make a big statement and would fit anywhere else on “NUMB”. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad song, it’s just a weird placement. The ending guitar distortion does give an ending feeling but not an album ending one. The anguished “love me again” in the background toward the end makes you feel for Swindle. It can be hard to have emotions invested in someone who is half in and half out.

Have Mercy have created something genuine and worth a spot in your daily music rotation. “NUMB” comes out December 8th on Rude Records.


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