Just the other day I was thinking how summer isn’t quite the same without a new Mystery Jets album to drool over in the glorious British sunshine. And right on cue comes Radlands, the fifth studio album from the timely Eel Pie Islanders. The South London quartet first appeared on my radar following the release of the wholehearted Making Dens way back in 2006 but unfortunately, as so many felt with Serotonin, Radlands, on the surface, fails to impress. On closer inspection however, one will find vivid sparks of brilliance amongst a pool of Texan-inspired mediocrity.
A redefinition of their sound isn’t something new to the Mystery Jets and with the news of their emigration to Texas being an all but private affair; it was obvious that the South Londoners were once again looking to do this. Somewhere along the way they managed to trade their synths for pedal guitars and their suit jackets for cowboy shirts and they returned a year later with an 11 track ode to America.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the title track, which sees southern-styled riffs and Springsteenian storybook lyrics aplenty. Although a little surprising at first, the transatlantic welding of these dissimilar styles doesn’t sound all that bad during the opener. However, the same cannot be said for many of tracks that follow.
‘You had me at Hello’ is a gleaming example of this, in which the attempted blend falls flat on its big, fat Anglo-American face and ends up sounding forcibly insincere. ‘Greatest Hits’, whose beginnings sound so similar to Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ that it hurts, continues this running theme of inauthenticity, and it just never sounds quite right.
Whilst the Jets have chosen to adopt this musical style for their latest release, the essence remains the same, with emphasis placed firmly on their trademark congruent vocal harmonies and the always-present catchy chorus. Songs like ‘Someone Purer’ and to some extent ‘Luminescence’, pay homage to the Mystery Jets of yesteryear and this marks them as personal highlights of a somewhat bland adventure.
Another high point is in the enchanting ‘Take me to Where the Roses Grow’ which thankfully sees the more soulful influences of American music shine through, and a breathtaking duet by William Rees and London-based singer-songwriter Sophie-Rose Harper is executed to perfection.
For me, the zenith of this slightly disappointing collection of songs has to be ‘The Ballad of Emmerson Lonestar’. The now-infamous, southern-inspired influences are present but not overpowering and this allows the Jets to really spread their proverbial wings with the resultant track being a lesson on how to write a simple-but-effective pop (I use that word in the loosest sense) song.
With all that said, what we have here is a highly successful band testing out new waters. While I believe this sort of variation is to be commended in our mundane musical world, this time it hasn’t quite worked out. So in my humble opinion, it’s time for the Mystery Jets (or “Mystery Jets MK III” as they now like to be called following the departure of bassist Kai Fish) to render their pedal guitars and cowboy shirts useless and please, please stick to what they know.
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