Mystery Jets | Serotonin (Rough Trade)

It feels like the only proper way to experience the disc is on a speedboat with a guy sporting a man-perm.

 

 Where the everlovin’ hell did this come from? Mystery Jets appear to want the listener to think of their third LP as having recently been unearthed from a coffee-can time capsule from 1987. In a vacuum, it’s not a terribly bizarre concept. But it’s a bit shocking coming from a band that’s previously pushed a vaguely modern sounding take on indie-fied pub rock; to suddenly arrive with a layer of sticky, “just try to get this off in the wash” techno-sheen…well, that hits like a rhythm stick.

 

Cover art, press shots and associated ephemera shouldn’t be a major factor in the analysis of a record, but it’s nigh impossible to ignore this one’s concerted, full frontal assault. In addition to the blindingly glossy production and treble obsession, there’s the promo photos: Suspenders with near-Zubaz trousers! Ferns! The entire band hanging out shirtless in a washed-out aquamarine bathroom in Miami Beach! (Yes, really, and this is the front cover.) It feels like the only proper way to experience the disc is on a speedboat with a guy sporting a man-perm.

 

 

It is worth harping on the looks because the visuals have thoroughly seeped into the sound. Who knows which came first, but both are intensely informed by the other. You almost have to award points for the complete package. But yes, the music… “Show Me the Light” and the title track are bouncier takes on Twenty One’s winning formula, only with crisper guitar arpeggios and super-clean synth lines punctuating intros and bridges. “Too Late to Talk” is inescapable soft rock, bringing to mind nothing more than a Foreigner power ballad; we’re almost talking Toto here, people. But before things get too out of control, “Flash a Hungry Smile” layers the bubblegum sleaze of Duran Duran over the chaste, chiming guitar pop of the Beatles’ Please Please Me. That subtle yet effective incorporation of tiny bits of ’50s and early ’60s pop is one of the things Mystery Jets does best; it’s heartening to hear it still being applied, even so Reaganomically.

 

But despite the brazen fixations, it’d be a lie to say this isn’t a positive listening experience. Album opener “Alice Springs” doesn’t miss a step, gradually amping up and throwing tense, muscular riffs and anthemic “whoa-oooah-aaa-oahh”s all over the place. “Melt” is a pleasing evolution; it melds spiraling keys and a drum machine to the band’s trademark hooky indie pop-rock, tossing an odd ’50s pop chorus into the mix, and applying a scuffed layer of fuzz and distortion to the final minute. Even the most “smooth hits” of Serotonin’s songs deliver the single-serve sized pleasures of well-written AOR radio. “The Girl Is Gone” could well be Icehouse by way of Eddie Money. “Waiting on a Miracle” might be the disc’s best track, riding a propulsive rhythm, almost sitar-like guitar bits and wistful, honest vocals to a soaring, scraping, cacophonous finale. It’s four minutes that hit with a strength you wish the entire LP possessed.

 

While Mystery Jets have never dug terribly deep—they’re not massively inventive, and their songs trade in simple yet affecting tales of youthful confusion and attraction—there’s something far less affecting about this batch of tunes. The band can clearly write a decent song, and this is 45 minutes of music you’ll want to dig out from time to time. But in trying to embiggen their sound, it feels as if they’ve lost a tiny bit of their usual straightforward soulfulness. B | Mike Rengel

 

RIYL: Ric Ocasek; the jukebox at a hypothetical hybrid ‘50s/’80s diner; a less literate, more ambitious version of Squeeze

 

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