, May 3rd, 2012 14:33
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. Some certainly weren't keen on the synth-y radio friendly feel of Twenty One that was inspired by "really glossy '80s production". The intervening years, though, have seen their sound grow up considerably. It's all got a lot darker, with a more old fashioned sonic palette - the kind that comes when you've perhaps been brought up to believe that post 1977 music ought be treated as a little suspicious.
This is their first album conceived and recorded in America – Austin, Texas specifically - and you can really tell. Radlands is a road trip album that oozes old American glamour, particularly the 'You Had Me At Hello' which gives a little wave to The Eagles and Neil Young. Additional canonical here include Led Zeppelin to The Kinks and even Bee Gees, as can be heard on the decidedly disco vocals of 'The Hale Bop'.
To accompany this musical backing, Mystery Jets have created a rather affecting story that, despite their previous prog-rock leanings, is their first actual concept album. The narrative concerns a guy called Emerson Lonestar, "a wandering musician who travels the badlands of America going from one disastrous relationship to another." Mystery Jets prove themselves to be adept at the form, the story dipping and peaking alongside the old nag as you ride a long with poor Emerson as he travels from a brothel to a church to the tropical vibrations of 'Take Me Where The Roses Grow'.
The constant references to the desert landscape and hidden Southern twangs in each song provide a backdrop for the lonesome traveller. He chooses to head off to the hills because "the future gets shorter the longer we wait" and immediately (one track later) has an encounter with a compassionate prostitute who "has him" in every way possible before he's overwhelmed by self-doubt in 'Someone Purer'. The adventures meander along until he falls spectacularly for what sounds like a rubbish nun in a rather hooky, traditional American-sounding track called 'Sister Everett'. Said Sister can "walk on water but still get's wet" and somewhat charmingly breaks his heart every time she "breaks the bread."
Stand out and a sign of just how far Mystery Jets have come is the title track, which contains the sentimentality of 'Alice Springs' and the anthemic qualities of 'Two Doors Down' and heads off somewhere new too. Miles away from the poppy happy clappy smiley lovey dovey vibes of Twenty One or epic choruses of Serotonin, Radlands displays a new direction and confidence and shows that, while their old mucker Emerson Lonestar might be stuck with his dodgy nun, Mystery Jets' journey unfolds ever new.