Ah, those Mystery Jets. They’ve been knocking around for a while haven’t they? With a new record released like clockwork every two years since 2006, they’ve never managed to set the charts alight, but have burned brightly in their corner, tweaking their sound over time to produce some genuinely stand out singles. From the eccentric indie of Making Dens and Zoo Time to the 80’s dayglo of 21 and Serotonin, their pattern of reinvention appears to come in twos. Now they stand on the precipice of that fifth album, the difficult ‘make your mark and cement your legacy’ territory. And what have they gone for? Well ladies and gentlemen, they’ve gone for the BAND record.
That’s right. Stripping back all gimmicks of bumbags and rainbow suits, Radlands is a simple blend of guitars, drums, bass and vocals, a gentle woodland creature that can be lured out of the depths by a trail of breadcrumbs and a lilting melody. Okay, I’m rambling. But my point is thus: a fog of twee, pine scented charm lays thick over this record, which isn’t surprising considering it was birthed in a home studio in Austin, Texas, beside the Colorado river .
If Radlands were a person, it would be a leather skinned old timer, wedged inside a rocking chair, blanket over his knees, reminiscing aloud about the good old times, where girls wore ankle socks and ‘cray’ was still merely a kind of fish. Mystery Jets have long based their career in nostalgia, but this time round you really get the sense that this is the guise in which they feel most comfortable. However, it’s difficult to tell if it pays off in full.
That is not to say that Radlands doesn’t have it’s moments. The wheat-between-the-teeth slide guitar of The Ballad of Emerson Lonestar is everything Mumford And Sons wished they could write. Lead single Someone Purer makes a play for future live set staple, all urgent click drums and slow building tension, relinquishing its taught control to allow a perky chorus to burst forth. Greatest Hits practically owes royalties to Stealers Wheel with its Stuck- In-The-Middle-With-You esque intro (a direct pastiche? Perhaps), but its tale of a couple separating their record collection after their relationship has fallen apart is both touching and humourous, a template for the kind of narrative Mystery Jets should continue to aim for.
However, You Had Me At Hello comes across like a Noel Gallagher b side, its downtrodden T Rex stomp dejective as Blaine plaintively asks for ‘you to love me like love was invincible’, before going on to list his various encounters with the unnamed female, like a randy schoolboy counting notches on a bedpost. The Nothing and Lost In Austin plod along in a similar fashion, inoffensive enough as background noise, but certainly with an air of ‘album filler’ about them, until the latter’s explosive breakdown just about saves the day.
After a lot of folksy chin stroking, what long term fans are probably looking for is something a little more instant. Midway, they are rewarded with The Hale Bop, which for want of a better comparison, is pure Abba. It’s brilliant disco-flecked pop at it’s boldest, and Radlands clear highlight. More than anything, they sound like they are having fun.
Despite the hipster connotations of the title, Radlands is nothing more and nothing less that a laidback pop record, built for the teatime slot at Glastonbury in its ability to unite young and old through a selection of well chosen influences. Whether this bluesy nostalgia is a lasting direction remains to be seen – I personally prefer the Jets with a little more cheer in their pistons. That said, this is a vital statement to prove that they are more than a one trick pony. With founding member Kai Fish departing just prior to the album’s release, they are in a position to re-evaluate their career once more, which may prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Download: Someone Purer, The Hale Bop, Greatest Hits
See below for the official Radlands album trailer: