The term “college rock” is one that may be confined to the ‘80s when bands like R.E.M. and even U2 were lumped into that genre. Nestled in that grouping were Miracle Legion who could have achieved the same (or similar) notoriety as their contemporaries. However, this New England band seemed to have mostly a regional appeal in the U.S. And if it wasn’t for a boost in stature in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s — due in part to MTV’s 120 Minutes, touring with the Sugarcubes, and getting a song featured on the soundtrack to a film with Alicia Silverstone — they may have been a footnote in the history of alternative music.
The band broke up in 1996 after releasing Portrait of a Damaged Family. Legal issues with their label, line up changes, and internal struggles among band members created the conditions where Mark Mulcahy, Ray Neal, and others didn’t want to continue as a unit. They parted ways with Mulcahy later taking an offer to write the theme song to the Nickelodeon TV show, The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
Flash forward twenty years later, and Miracle Legion is re-releasing their final record with a tour in the works, too. One would think it’s with more than a tinge of bittersweetness that the band members revisited the record (and remastered the tracks), but that’s not necessarily the case. Portrait of a Damaged Family is a varied affair. The songs don’t get stuck in stylistic rut, but show a lot of growth with production flourishes in “Screamin,’” for example, with its circus-like waltz over layered vocals and shimmering guitars. “Homer” is one of those songs where acoustic guitars, hi-hat, and some well-placed strings give the song a lot of breathing room so the listener can soak up the lyrics within the expanse of the music.
The upbeat and peppy “I Wish I Was Danny Kaye” masks a caustic undertone with the line: “I wish I was Danny Kaye/Had nice things to say/And nothing to do all day.” Clearly, the yearning to be a nicer person is something that alludes the narrator with the refrain, “Don’t you wish you were, too?” Some of the songs are more straightforward rock — like “The Depot” — but overall Portrait of a Damaged Family is a document of a band who broke up too early. As guitarist Ray Neal said about the album: “I don’t think many people knew it came out the first time. I’m not sure I did! Unfortunately we never toured or did anything with it. We were all lost.” One listen to the record and you’ll hear a band who aren’t lost anymore.
Portrait of a Damaged Family will also be released on April 16th for those record shops participating in Record Store Day. A digital version is set for April 18th when Miracle Legion’s label (Mezzotint) will release their entire catalog.