Mystery Jets ‘Curve of the Earth – Review

12 Feb

Mystery jets are the Mr Benn of pop. With every new album they put on new costumes to compliment a new musical direction. On ‘Twenty One’, they donned shoulder pads and glitter for their 80s record and on ‘Radlands’, out came the suede jackets and faded denim as the tackled Americana. New record ‘Curve of the Earth’ isn’t so blatant. Actually, it feels like a grown up version of an album the band no longer talk about or perform – their debut, ‘Making Dens’. That album was a modern take on Prog played by kids just as versed in pop and indie. But ‘Curve of the Earth’ is weary instead of optimistic and nostalgic instead of forward thinking. It is, to use that dreadful word, mature. If ‘Making Dens’ channelled ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ then this is their ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.

Which is utterly disappointing because Mystery Jets are at their best when they’re at their most playful. I’ve been a big fan of Mystery Jets from the beginning and each of their prior albums have appeared in my top ten lists for their respective years. I was expecting something much more inspired than this tired old thing. The years (yes years) they spent making these nine songs have plunged them in to a kind of darkness. They spent so long working on it, wrapped up in the minutiae of it, viewing it from such a close angle, that they completely neglected the necessary, objective viewpoint. Somewhere in the process they lost sight of the fact that the songs all pretty much sound the same. In isolation they are decent tunes, if somewhat underpumped and overcooked, but together they melt in to one grey blob.

‘Telemere’ was an underwhelming lead single and feels even more out of place opening the album. It’s a long and dreary song that nonetheless comes as close to pop as the album ever veers. At least it does a nice job of displaying Blaine’s still impressive vocals. But in its melancholic, mid paced chug, It exemplifies how the songs drag on. Many  clock in at six minutes, though none run any longer than that, which is an odd length; too long to scan as pop but not long enough to attempt anything truly ambitious or epic. Instead the structures are pedestrian, nothing particularly develops or evolves as the songs play out. The arrangements stay static and the playing lacks any sense of wonderment or inspiration. Only the pulsating ‘Bubblegum’, a War on Drugs rip off, has any sort of energy about it, and that’s easily the best thing on here. The second half of the record is particularly boring with ‘Blood Red Balloon’ and ‘Saturnine’ being devoid of even a hint of energy.

Better are the more stripped back songs. Blaine is a gifted top-line writer with a fine ear for a hook. ‘Bombay Blue’ is sweet and affecting whilst ‘Taken by the Tide’ is a soft and moving account of loss punctuated by aggressive guitar riffs after every chorus. It’s one of the very few songs on here that has any sense of drama or musical tension. Mystery Jets just don’t quite have the technical chops or ruthless ambition to pull off ‘Curve of the Earth’. They are naturally modest, low-key and playful which are all qualities sorely lacking here. The songs just don’t do enough to capture the imagination or hold your attention; it breaks my heart to say it but ‘Curve of the Earth’ is a tired and tiring album.

5/10

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