Music: Mystery Jets- Radlands
Ella Griffiths is disappointed by the band's bizarre new country concept album
by Ella Griffiths
Thursday 24th May 2012, 22:30 BST
Propelled into the mainstream after the success of ‘Young Love’ and ‘Two Doors Down’ from 2008’s exuberantly anthemic Twenty One, the Mystery Jets have established high expectations of their next compilation of addictive melodies.
With the release of Serotonin in 2010 characterized by an underwhelming pastel haze of soft rock, the eccentric pop darlings of Eel Pie Island needed to achieve a dramatic reinvention with their fourth album before this dazzle wore off completely. Sadly, despite a smattering of excellent pop gems, Radlands aims for the mature heights of brooding Americana only to descend into country-tinged blandness.
Recorded by the Colorado River in Texas, the band bravely attempt a conceptual album centred upon the desert wanderings of love-struck musician Emerson Lonestar. However, this gimmick collapses into strained artificiality even after an initial glance at the dusty cowboy boots gracing the album cover, as the wistful but fleeting lyrics lack the depth of soul necessary to sustain such musical ambitions.
Indeed, ‘The Ballard of Emmerson Lonestar’ is a feeble travesty of Neil Young with its irritating faux-bluesy guitar and hackneyed lyrics describing the need to “follow the road / to wherever it goes”. Just as ‘The Nothing’ bears an uncomfortable resemblance to its title by virtue of whining harmonies and flimsy synths, ‘The Hale Bop’ is actively unpleasant in its fusion of insipid falsetto, chugging disco beats and shallow lyrics yelping about the need for a “saviour”.
It is obvious that the band still possess their inimitable knack for crafting heart-swelling, rousing choruses so such self-indulgent tunes elicit feelings of frustration. Easily the stand-out track of the album, ‘Someone Purer’ sees Blaine Harrison’s gorgeous vocals soar in the heady, rippling melodies of the chorus.
This subtle refinement of their pop sensibility is reflected in the haunting slide guitar of the slow-burning ‘Radlands’ that succeeds where other songs fail in transforming mild country influences into exciting tracks, despite bizarrely imagining the afterlife as a “terribly overrated horse-shit shaped hole in the sky”.
Finally, the energetic strumming and chirpy hand-claps of ‘Greatest Hits’ evoke a nostalgia for their scruffy, vivacious tunes of past days, enlivened by witty and endearing lyrics describing the toils of splitting a record collection after a break-up.
These glimmers of talent powerfully shine through the foggy southern ambiance stultifying the rest of the album, invigorating tired images of American highways with their old effervescent lustre. While ‘Radlands’ could have been a potentially interesting musical experiment for the band, it seems rather that the Mystery Jets are at their best when channelling their youthful gusto into vibrant, unpretentious hits.