Review: Mystery Jets – Radlands
Published on May 11th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
In retrospect, Mystery Jets have been a balls-out pop group all along, even with all their expressed admiration for the rather more cosmic likes of Syd Barrett and Yes. As much became evident as soon as they busted out those swoonsome oohs and aahs on divine 2008 single “Young Love” – suddenly, the winning knack for melody and harmonies won out over the idiosyncratic streak that marked the likes of “The Boy Who Ran Away” and “You Can’t Fool Me Dennis”, and this pop sensibility was given an extra synth dimension on 2010 album Serotonin, the Eel Pie Islanders’ third full-length.
With sessions for Radlands having taken place in the country music haven of Austin, Texas, it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that much of this record is so light of touch, with little sign of the discontent that led to bassist Kai Fish announcing his decision to quit the band last month. Not that all is rosy; “I’ve heard there’s a place where we go to die / It’s a terribly overrated horse-shit-shaped hole in the sky” is the title track’s opening lyrical gambit, front man Blaine Harrison now fully rid of the oh-so-mid-noughties gusto that tarnished 2006 debut LP Making Dens, his voice now more honeyed of texture, in a Ray Davies/Stuart Murdoch sort of way.
“Radlands” is a lovely opener, high-pitched, speed-picked guitars shimmering to sound more like a classic Italian love song than “Misirlou”, pedal steel introduced in the second verse and lines like “the future gets shorter the longer we wait” all amounting to the kind of intelligent, world-weary pop that makes up much of the album.
“You Had Me at Hello” begins with Resevoir Dogs-like bass (just to further the Quentin Tarantino connotations) before flowering into a filmic sort of cross between Neil Young and Pink Floyd, while “Someone Purer” and “The Ballad of Emmerson Lonestar” go on to evoke respectively The Shins and I Am Kloot, the latter launching into the kind of harmony-drenched country chorus that could have featured on Dodgy’s new album.
All across the board the production is spot-on, restrained yet sufficiently in bold, and “Greatest Hits” manages to hit “Young Love” levels of bittersweet breeziness with sha la la las to die for and fantastically entertaining lyrics about a couple divvying up the record collection having just parted ways: “You can take The Lexicon of Love away, but I’m keeping Remain in Light / You can take away It’s a Shame About Ray but I’m holding onto Country Life / You can keep No Need to Argue and I’ll keep In the Aeroplane Over the Sea / Hold onto The Boy With the Arab Strap, ’cause I’m holding onto Village Green“. And of course that utterly gorgeous chorus refrain: “These were our greatest hits / The best of me and you”.
We then have the funky, upbeat “The Hale Bop” before album highlight “The Nothing” incorporates fluty Mellotron and twinkly keys that match simple, vibrato lead guitar note-for-note, really colouring it all in something splendid and paving the way for the Ray Davies sucker punch line of “bring me back as something beautiful” to land the introspective killer blow in amongst the pointed but more throwaway lines like “I’m not like all the other people / With their skinny coffees and their Nurofen”.
“Take Me Where the Roses Grow” is a pared-back duet between guitarist William Rees and Sophie-Rose Harper that takes on a big, reverby grandness as it travels, while “Sister Everett” leads a straight sort of Americana verse into a floaty chorus that flirts with chiming Doves guitar harmonies (guitarmonies?), throwing in another ace lyric (“Sister Everett / We shared Bible class and cigarettes / Sister Everett / You were so good to know but hard to get”) and then ending with gospel exhortations to “Mother Mary”.
“Sister Everett” leads straight into the snappily titled “Lost in Austin”, the quiet force of which explodes into something resembling a cross between early Radiohead and Longpigs, before the fragile acoustic lament of “Luminescence” brings proceedings to a close with another gem of a line (“It’s not the coke, it’s the lump in my throat that’s to blame”) and a warm demo-y feel – it sounds like it was recorded in a single take, and if that is indeed the case then it’s a very fine take indeed.
Mystery Jets are unlikely to turn many people’s worlds upside down but they continue to be a reliable exponent of smart, warm-hearted and consummately performed pop music, and for that they will always be welcome.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!