Prague is something of a comeback album.
That’s an unusual thing to say about a sophomore outing, to be sure, but the events leading into it are so extraordinary the exception seems warranted.
The six-song effort was tracked in the city it is named for back in late 2012 with Blackwatch Studios’ Jarod Evans, with an expected release date that following year. But fate intervened, and MRD frontman and songwriter Brantley Cowan slipped from a ladder and fell 15 feet straight down onto the ground below, breaking his back.
The accident left his ability to walk, let alone lead a rock band with big ambitions, in question. Stacked against the odds, Cowan took his first steps and relearned to walk within weeks, taking the stage at SXSW a short two months later in an underdog tale well-suited to the big, sweeping, sports-drama rock anthems the band has so steadfastly dedicated itself to churning out.
So the mere existence of Prague is a triumph of the human spirit, a rally cry of a sonically massive album and a near unbelievable instance of art mirroring life mirroring art again.
A more nuanced take on the same terrain — expressive, arena-sized alt-rock — that debut Great Western Civilization took on, Prague manages to feel infinitely more sincere — or maybe just earned. Where the theatrics read, at times, manufactured, the would-be Muse heir apparent is more natural and authentic, if frequently indulgent, here.
Wrought with grief, fear, love, joy and sadness, it’s a manic-depressive sort of record that wrestles with the decision of whether it’s an inspirational record or an inspired one. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, MRD seizes that opportunity to emote with a capital E, but the Les Miserables’ threshold for maudlin antics is punctured in “You’re Still Here” and “Tiny Clothes,” a problem exacerbated with overlong melodies in stretched-out songs that would play better in smaller doses.
Those feelings are very real, admittedly, and it’s likely that same outsized essence that made that fight back into music possible. They can be especially potent when put in check, as in opener “Young Velvet” and “Set Me Free (Wake Me Up),” where you’re left with perfectly passionate indie rock anthems ready to soundtrack the desperation Hail Mary touchdown toss or crack of a grand slam swing in the bottom of the ninth.
The former is especially interesting, sprinkling liberal chunks of mall pop nostalgia (plus a fierce sax solo) into its ’90s alt-rock angst like Collective Soul via 2015. “Pyramid” is a high point, too, weaving strings and keys that play more enlivened than weepy in a dustbowl whirlwind rocker not all too dissimilar from fellow Okies Other Lives.
A high-quality recording technically executed to the level of precision expected of a Coldplay or U2, Prague — despite its imperfections — represents a big step forward for MDR in every vital way. The band that was nearly knocked off its feet now looks primed to take off in a full sprint. Who says miracles can’t happen?
Album: Prague | Available now | modernrockdiaries.bandcamp.com