Album Review: Mystery Jets – Radlands

By on Monday, 30th April 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Mystery Jets’ latest album ‘Radlands’ is named after their American studio on the Colorado River in Texas where the band decamped in spring 2011 to write new material. This struck worry in me; it seems like everyone is recording their album in American and wanting an American sound: take for example the Temper Trap and Two Door Cinema Club. Worse, when you think of Texas, you think of people listening to country music, and there’s a fine line between country and folk. When you queue up this album, the album’s title track starts in with a gentle guitar line. And while it’s got a mournful slide guitar (ew, please, no country!), the chorus makes it crystal clear these are the same chaps that brought ‘Half in Love with Elizabeth’ and ‘Serotonin’: the chords are beautiful with Blaine Harrison’s fragile voice, as if the heavens have opened to let the sun shine in.

Which is an odd statement, because as you listen to the words to ‘Radlands’ the song itself, there’s a seriousness about the proceedings: talk about heaven (“it’s a terrible, overrated, shit-shaped hole in the sky), hell and mortality (“the future gets shorter as we wait”) aren’t easy things to put into a pop song, and yet Mystery Jets have done it masterfully. That said, the Jets sound quite different from their previous efforts. ‘You Had Me at Hello’ has a soulful feel and a raucous ending that Fleetwood Mac would deem worthy. It also very interestingly includes the same line “take me for a ride” that also featured in the second track of ‘Serotonin’, ‘Too Late to Talk’.

‘Someone Purer’, which I extolled in this In the Post, questions the meaning of life and sounds like an existentialist lament, and is simply gorgeous. Later on, ‘The Nothing’ further explores the unknown, with Harrison’s falsetto begging, “bring me back as something beautiful”. Is pop music supposed to make you cry? ‘Lost in Austin’ is pretty good, with Harrison wailing, “take me to the edge, I’m not scared!” while the drums and guitars crash satisfyingly around you. You want to get behind the band after these couple of songs. You really do. Unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t last.

Like…what is ‘The Ballad of Emmerson Lonestar’? The slide guitar is back and beyond the drumming and the last minute of distorted guitars acting as a too little, too late rescue attempt, this is a country song. I can appreciate the harmonies –and them harmonies are lovely – but as a whole, it’s not my cup of tea. Next. Thankfully, the next song ‘Greatest Hits’ sounds like the Beatles or even dear ol’ Macca, which is pretty appropriate, given there’s a line here that goes “I still remember I bought you ‘Band on the Run’ on the first day we kissed / but you always did prefer McCartney 1 because it reminded you of being a kid” and there are ‘Jet’-style “woo woo woos” in full force here. It’s funny as hell too: “when you sober up, you’re always wise as fuck / you’re still listening to Marc E. Smith”. I love how Mystery Jets have kept you their humour, one reason I enjoy them: it’s hard to write genuinely funny lyrics without sounding like a caricature of yourself, and Harrison’s always managed to write some really memorable and hilarious words over the years.

But here’s the problem with this album: you’re thrown for a loop too many times. I’m guessing ‘The Hale Bop’ was named after the Great Comet of 1811 but is about a “saviour” but in a weird, ‘70s disco style. Is it about God? I’m not entirely sure. Either way, it’s an odd song and placed oddly in the album. ‘Sister Everett’, named for a Mormon missionary the band met on a plane ride to California, has an extended hymn-like soft ending and is just too tentative. ‘Take Me Where the Roses Grow’ is another weird entry, mostly for its folk, faux-Judy Collins vibes achieved in a duet between William Rees and Sophie-Rose Harper. While the final track, ‘Luminescence’, is an intimate words with guitar plucking moment, it’s the Jets at their most self-indulgent. Chances are you’re probably going to be using those forward and backward skip buttons when you’re listening to this album.

It’s possible I might have a change of heart like I did with ‘Serotonin’, which went from good to amazing in my books in a short span of 6 months’ continuing re-listening in late 2010-early 2011. But considering I’m not a big fan of Americana (yes, I’m American but that doesn’t mean I feel at home with this style of music), somehow I doubt it. Maybe Kai Fish made a good decision abandoning ship?

6.5/10

‘Radlands’, the fourth album from Mystery Jets, is out today on Rough Trade.

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