Mystery Jets have always been known for their sense of humour and their highly memorable pop songs. They try out a new Americana-influenced musical direction on their latest effort, but mostly it doesn’t impress.
Rough Trade Records, 2012
6.5 / 10.0
English band Mystery Jets have already proven that they can write great pop songs. Their track “Young Love”, from their second album, Twenty One, is perhaps one of my favourite pop songs ever. Sadly, their 2010 release, Serotonin, didn’t really make the same impression on me. With their fourth album, Radlands, I was keen to see if the band could redeem their mistakes. The odds were stacked against them after their bassist, Kai Fish, suddenly left the band early in 2012. So I was hoping they would have some success with this album. (Like everyone else, I do like to back the underdog.) But in the end, I was only moderately impressed with what I heard on Radlands.
Instead, the thing I enjoyed most about Radlands was not its ability to deliver great pop songs, but its sharp humour, and endless cultural references. For example, in my favourite track from the album, “Greatest Hits”, lead singer Blaine Harrison argues with an ex-girlfriend, in hilarious fashion, over who gets to keep their copies of Band On The Run and This Nation’s Saving Grace.
But even though these are both classic English compositions, it’s not Britain that forms most of the subject matter of the album. Radlands is actually quite heavily inspired by country and blues, after the band’s travels around America playing shows, so the album does throw in plenty of lyrics about Americana and dusty highways and so on. Similarly the album includes a lot of jangly guitar-work, hoe-dance-friendly riffs and charismatic organ-playing. This works best on the track “Sister Everett” – the final minute of that song, with its church choir supporting vocals, is absolutely compelling. The rest of the time, this new musical direction is pretty dull. It’s all a bit “been there, done that”. Mystery Jets are certainly not the first British band to become suddenly inspired by the big dusty continent across the Atlantic Ocean, and they won’t be the last.
Why oh why can’t Mystery Jets just keep making sparkly pop songs like they used to? I admire them for trying something new, but I’m running out of patience for them. Radlands is still a decent album. It’s got plenty of humour and spirit, and the quality of all the performances from all the band members is top notch, as you would expect. But when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone when other bands are writing so much better, more creative indie rock songs.
Check out my personal blog: Songs for the Nerdy.