Mystery Jets ‘Radlands’ – Review

11 May

It’s easy to forget just how many costumes Mystery Jets have worn over the years. Remember how strange and psychadelic their debut was? And remember just how surprising it was when their second album, ’21’, turned out to be a synth pop banger without any signs of madness or eccentricity? And remember just how alarmingly intimate their third record, ‘Serotonin’, was? That their new album, ‘Radlands’, has seen them go country-rock is even more surprising without being at all surprising – we’ve come to expect the unexpected from the band. What’s remarkable is that throught their career, despite their constant attempts at reinvention, Mystery Jets have never sounded like anyone else except themselves – and that’s a compliment.

It seems ‘Radlands’ is the product of some kind of existential crisis for the band. Back in 2010 Mystery Jets got their hearts broken and made a pretty stunning album all about it. So what do you do once the tears have dried and you’re ready to move on? Well, most people would run away given half a chance, it’s just that they have commitments – jobs, family etc, not to mention a lack of money. Mystery Jets however are a rock n roll band, therefore they have no commitments or money problems! So what did they do? The first thing anyone would do of course – they got on a plane and flew as far into Texas as they could and proceeded to spend a couple of months getting drunk, writing songs about weirdos and pretending to be Johnny Cash!

On ‘Radlands’ the band sound more confident than they ever have before. On songs like ‘Flakes’, ‘Umbrellahead’ and ‘Alice Springs’, Blaine sounded fragile, cut up and vulruble, but on ‘Radlands’ his voice is strong, well trained and powerful. Bass player Kai Fish and guitarist William Rees have also developed into great singers, and the three part harmonies are delightful throughout. ‘You Had Me at Hello’ has particularly memorable vocals for a song about finding love in the arms of a prostitute. The theme of uncertainty runs throughout the album, as song titles like ‘The Nothing’ and ‘Lost In Austin’ suggest. Blaine isn’t the most sophisticated writer on the block but he is able to squeeze all possible meaning and emotion out of simple lyrics.

William Rees’ songs are the weaker ones on the album. His songs, including ‘The Ballad of Emerson Lonestar’ and ‘Sister Everett’ attempt to tell storys but fail to be interesting despite having some clever melodic hooks. ‘Where the Roses Go’ is a nice duet between William and his girlfriend Lucy Rose, but it’s a little too cliched and cheesy for my tastes. His best moment is the funky, almost Bee Gees sounding ‘Hale Bop’ which features some amazing falsetto vocals and sprightly guitar licks. Blaine’s songs are better because he can convey more with his voice and through his lyrics. Despite the newly found confidence I mentioned earlier, there is still a degree of sadness in his delivery, particularly on the soul searching first single ‘Someone Purer’ which is built around the genius refrain of ‘Give me rock n roll and a pure and innocent soul’, surely a contradiction in terms?

Like fellow eccentrics The Horrors, Mystery Jets always get compared to older bands. Reviews of their previous albums often spent more time name checking influences than talking about the music (a fact that led the infamous Pitchforkreviews-reviewer to write a blog complaining aout pitchfork’s dire review of ‘Serotonin’). This time the band have decided not to leave it to the reviews, and they actually list their favourite records on the jaw-droppingly brilliant ‘Greatest Hits’, which describes a couple dividing their record collection after a break up. I could print the entire lyrics to the song because they’re so fantastic but I think this line sums up its majesty: ‘your not having this nations saving grace, you only listen to it when you’re pissed / and when you sober up it’s always why the fuck are you still listening to Mark E Smith.’ Lyric of the year?

I’m a big fan of Mystery Jets first three albums and I guess ‘Radlands’ always had a lot to live up to in my eyes. I would be lying if I said it reached the dizzying heights of ‘Serotonin’ or ‘Twenty One’ (two of the most underated pop albums of recent years), but that said, it’s still amongst the very best records I’ve heard all year. Like that Kids cartoon adventurer Mr Ben, Mystery Jets like trying on new costumes, so what will they come out as next time? They’ve toyed with glam rock in the past or maybe they’ll go grunge? punk rock? I’ve always wondered what a dubstep Mystery Jets song would sound like… or not.

8/10

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