Mystery Jets are back in full force with the release of their fourth studio album Radlands. The band has had promise since the beginning, following the steady success of their debut album, Making Dens back in 2006. The polished follow up, Twenty One, had an unmistakable air of success, while the slower build up of Serotonin left us all wondering what to expect next.
Following traditional Indie right of passage, the unmistakably English boys set up home in Austin, Texas, for a couple of months to record their first album outside of the crown. The birthchild was Radlands. On first impression the album is an calculated move away from the synth-bopping beats that we have come to expect, and has a notably more rock and country, influence. The album as a whole has a subsequently eclectic mixture of Americana influences but still manages to stay true to the bands original roots. It plays sort of like a strange, yet surprisingly tasty, English muffin covered in mustard.
With a melancholic riff the first song up is Radlands, which on initial listen seems like a strange tone to begin an album with, but the song kicks of about midway through with a catchier chorus. As I rode along in the tram I found myself zoning out just a touch, because while the songs are solid and the band has style, I was not necessarily hearing a new which is new.
The first song to really commanded my attention was 'Someone Purer' which has that Indie essence that made Mystery Jets popular in the first place. When the song starts to chant “so give me rock and roll”, you cannot help but to pout your lips an nod your head at passers by (in my case fellow commuters) with that soaring sense that music occasionally inspires, only to realise that they can not hear what is inside of your headphones and are therefore looking at you crooked.
Radlands dabbles in so many different genres and influences that it is a real journey album, with as many ups and downs as my rickety tram itself. Some songs, like 'The Ballad of Emmerson Lonestar' and 'Take Me Where The Roses Grow' have such a strong slide guitar weilding, country and western feeling, that you can just imagine the boys eating brisket and drinking lazily on the porch. Whereas other tunes like 'Greatest Hits' and 'The Nothing' are more classically Indie served with an almost typical twist of Brit-pop style.
Then, just to spice things up, a fabulously cheesy song like 'The Hale Bop' skates along and harkens back to the Age of Aquarius with its falsettos and smiling harmonies. The album then ends on a relaxed note with 'Lost in Austin', which is acoustically rhythmic without being obvious.
Lyrically this Radlands is very strong. The songs have a sense of purpose and create an image in the listeners mind, like 'Sister Everett' which was inspired when vocalist Blaine Harrison met a missionary on the plane ride to Texas. Or 'You Had Me At Hello' which narrates the albums protagonist, Lonestar Emerson's love affair with a prositute- “I want you to love love me as if you got no principles, I want you to love me as if love is invincible.” Other lyrics that instantly glued to my mind include the very first two on album, in which the Mystery Jets rather jadedly croon “I've heard there's a place where we go to die, It's a terribly overrated horse-shit shaped hole in the sky.”
Radlands other strength is a strong sense of energy and collaboration. Harmonies galore along with a general exploration of new sounds, led the listener to believe that the boys are jamming towards a bigger and better sound. All of which is all the more interesting when you consider shortly after recording Radlands, bassist Kai Fish announced that he would be leaving the band.
What the album lacked for me was innovation. While Mystery Jets are experimenting, they did not push the envelop far enough this time. Often the songs were good but they felt like the were following a formula of bands past. That said there is definite progression and the sense that the Mystery Jets are moving towards something larger, an album which defines their sound.
Overall I enjoyed the album and felt that it had enough variation to keep even as someone as hyperactive as me listening. Radlands feels like an experimentation pulled off by great musicians whose strengths lie in creating catchy riffs and lyrical tales that capture the listener. Highly recommended for a bump tram ride on a sunny afternoon.
Review Score: 7.0 out of 10.