Release Date: Jun 5, 2012
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
Sometimes a change of scenery can give someone a new perspective, and traveling to Austin, Texas to record their fourth album has made an audible difference in the way Mystery Jets do things. While their previous albums displayed a charming fascination with '80s pop and electronics both old and new, Radlands reflects the drier, sunnier climate in which it was created. Keyboards play a lesser role in these arrangements, the melodies sound more organic and direct, and steel guitars and vocal choruses punctuate the tunes; while suggesting the band has embraced roots rock is going way too far to prove a point, there's a sunburned, burnished glow to the best moments here that makes it sound as if traveling to Texas was the same thing as taking the Way-Back Machine to Laurel Canyon circa 1972 in the minds of Mystery Jets.
Whether or not the music stacks up, Radlands should be regarded as a triumph. While the majority of their peers have fallen away in the battle against mainstream pop in recent years, Mystery Jets have fought on; from those early days as Eel Pie Island ragamuffin underdogs who counted a 57-year-old man in their number (Henry Harrison, vocalist Blaine Harrison’s father in fact, who left the band in 2007) to, later on, pop purveyors who tried, with a disappointing level of success, to conquer the charts with an ‘80s inspired sound. Recently, as Radlands was being readied for release, bassist Kai Fish announced his departure.
Mystery Jets singer Blaine Harrison has talked of how the band decided their fourth album should be made in "the furthest place from everything we knew". That meant upping sticks to Texas but also abandoning the soft rock rush of 2010's Serotonin for a more ascetic country and blues-influenced sound: murky guitar phrasing and organ on "The Nothing", bone-dry barroom boogie on "Greatest Hits". They're not the first London boys to start waxing lyrical about "12 gauges" and the "old interstate", but the results are almost always convincing.
Mystery Jets have always worn their eccentricities like a leopard print badge of honour. As the band who wrote ‘Two Doors Down’, perhaps they’ve every right to. Still, the suspicion that this Eel Pie Island quartet place general whimsy before straight up incredible songwriting continues to linger like simplistic comparisons to Syd Barrett. Following the underwhelming Serotonin, a reboot seemed like the best route forward for Blaine Harrison and co.
After a long hiatus marked by side projects and personal tragedy, the Killers are set to return later this year with a new album-- and I'd bet that Mystery Jets are disappointed by that news. Back in 2010, the British rockers released Serotonin, an album packed with sparkling, glammy stadium-pop gems to rival Brandon Flowers' most cocksure feather-jacketed highs. Taking into consideration the ramshackle funhouse guitar pop of the band's 2006 debut, Making Dens, the shift toward such shiny stuff was surprising-- the amount of added polish was especially noticeable (even for a band that's always sounded relatively put-together in the production department)-- but it was a new look that they wore well.
Mystery JetsRadlands[Rough Trade; 2012]By Brendan Frank; June 4, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGThere’s a point on Radlands where Mystery Jets sing: “We’re as much a mystery to ourselves/ As anyone else.” It’s a self-inflicted identity crisis that would inevitably occur at some point, simply due to the nature of music they make. After three albums that have stuck to a sound that is highly susceptible to the law of diminishing returns, Mystery Jets’ attempt at a reinvention finds the band confused and unfocused. Despite their feeble attempt at a makeover, Mystery Jets have nothing to offer on Radlands that is worth getting excited over.
For their fourth album, the Mystery Jets headed off to Texas and made the inevitable Americana album so beloved of British indie bands with a hint of longevity. Radlands is executed with polite faithfulness to its inspirations: The Ballad of Emerson Lonestar is built on the finger-picking and slide guitar one might expect, while album closer Luminescence is a mournful ballad plucked straight from the campfire. But this new southern influence plods, and Radlands is more successful when it gives in to a more straightforward sound: Sister Everett is an amiable, chugging tale of a flawed missionary.
Mystery Jets have come a long way since Making Dens, their whimsical debut that charmed fans and critics alike. If originating from Eel Pie Island wasn't enough, their exuberant chanting, off-kilter lyrics, and the fact that their line-up included the then 55-year-old father of the singer had them hailed as a welcome addition to our collection of Great British Eccentrics. Four albums later and Radlands could easily be just as good if not, perhaps, much better than what they've done since.
Across the Atlantic, it's fashionable for 20-something, guitar-wielding males high on machismo to seek popular approval as the de facto "voice of a generation." Unlike big-hitters Arctic Monkeys and Oasis, UK bands such as the Libertines flourished not with kitchen-sink observation, but a convincingly romantic take on quintessential Englishness, informed by the poems of William Blake. Chasing a similar vision are Eel Pie Island's Mystery Jets, whose continued existence points to a vast following that always stretched beyond the band's parochial scene. It's been tough, mind you.
A bracing, rock-orientated fourth set from the Eel Pie Islanders. Chris Bright 2012 As dramatic exits go, Kai Fish’s departure from Mystery Jets on the eve of their fourth album’s release had all the terrible flair of a teenager slamming the door on a startled parent. The Eel Pie Islanders’ charismatic bassist won plaudits with his solo effort from last year, Life in Monochrome, and, perhaps enjoying the taste of freedom that record afforded, opted to call it quits with his band of seven years at the beginning of April.