British guitar bands are often criticised for their lack of ambition. With good reason, too – turn on any radio station and you will be confronted with at least one band who have been in existence for two decades or more, and steadfastly refuse to budge beyond the square musical meal they were eating in the 1990s. This is all fine for listeners who like their music predictable and relatively safe, but doesn’t say much about the acts’ standing as artists with imagination, craft and the desire to add more human elements to their music.
Mystery Jets, on the other hand, continue to evolve. You may not have noticed, but this is their fifth album proper, and they have come a long way from the wet-behind-the-ears Eel Pie Island quintet of 2006 début Making Dens. Although the promise that outfit showed is still some way towards being fully revealed, the band are responding to the changes they have recently experienced in a wholly positive way.
One of those is a new member, bassist Jack Flanagan, another the creation of a self-serving recording studio on the site of an old button factory in East London. The band made what they thought would be a new album but then rejected the vast majority of it – and after some solitary confinement writing and honing their songs, Blaine Harrison emerged with a different beast altogether.
The press release speaks of a tough past two years, but the exact source of that strife is difficult to pinpoint. However it all comes out in the music making up Curve Of The Earth – which gets points both for its ambitious album title and for its artwork, seemingly set on moving the band into a more psychedelic, progressive territory of the sort inhabited by Tame Impala. It suits them. There is no breezy Dreaming Of Another World here, nor the slightly contrived Americana of previous album Radlands, though some elements surface unexpectedly in Bubblegum, whose wide-eyed riff comes straight from the War On Drugs stable.
Rather this is a record where the band stand back for a deep and meaningful contemplation of the world we are in, growing up and thinking of the future rather than the present. Crucially, Curve Of The Earth also has a consistency not found in the band’s previous four albums, and adds considerable emotional clout. That much is evident from the first four chords of the majestic single Telomere, which initially sounds like a Gaz Coombes utterance in its grand stance, but reveals vulnerability through Blaine Harrison’s brooding vocal.
It is indicative of an invigorating confidence to the Mystery Jets’ delivery, at once totally natural and, in some of the more upbeat songs, wholly affirmative. 1985, the year of Harrison’s birth, is a great example. As the singer contemplates the “star-crossed lovers” whose lives were about to change forever, the musical panorama takes in the great wide open, evoking a starry night with slide guitars and tremolo strings.
Midnight’s Mirror is not so affirmative but has learned from previous mistakes. “So I said to myself,” sings Harrison, “Well well, you fell down the same hole again, now you’re your only friend”. Yet this pales beside the powerfully moving Taken By The Tide, an elegy to an unnamed friend or relative that could move a grown man to tears.
With a natural ebb and flow, Curve Of The Earth is both a new departure for the Mystery Jets and their most consistent and rewarding album yet. It does on occasion have a design on stadium filling sounds, but from experience the band are English enough to shy away from the overblown. Here they get the mix just right.