As dramatic exits go, Kai Fish’s departure from Mystery Jets on the eve of their fourth album’s release had all the terrible flair of a teenager slamming the door on a startled parent. The Eel Pie Islanders’ charismatic bassist won plaudits with his solo effort from last year, Life in Monochrome, and, perhaps enjoying the taste of freedom that record afforded, opted to call it quits with his band of seven years at the beginning of April.
The news came as a hammer blow after album number three, 2010’s Serotonin, performed solidly but failed to build on the joyous plastic pop of Twenty One, sounding jaded in spite of a polished production job from Beatles/Roxy Music studio boffin Chris Thomas. Breaking with recent synth-pop form for a rock-oriented set recorded in Texas, then, Radlands sounds — on paper, at least — like one last roll of the dice from a band whose future seems increasingly up in the air.
Interesting, then, how lightly the band wears its troubles for the most part here — The Hale Bop’s country-shack disco shows off the band’s compulsive flair for melody in the best possible light, while You Had Me at Hello defies indie cred to pay deft homage to the Eagles. Mystery Jets are often at their best contemplating relationship politics — they’re basically the drunken scruffs that always seem to bumble their way into someone’s bed at parties in defiance of all odds — and Greatest Hits is no exception, being essentially a drawn-out argument with an ex about who gets what from the shared record collection. It will surely be allowed to stand as their best single since Two Doors Down, whatever its brazen cribbing from the Steve Miller Band (and brazen it is).
Sister Everett’s Hammond-drenched boogie sounds like an inspired mash-up between Honky Tonk Women and the band’s own Young Love. Someone Purer, meanwhile, is a rabble-rousing gem that would also sit proudly any future singles collection — destined to be the band’s only essential release, in the kindest possible way — but Lost in Austin’s crunchy epic labours the point somewhat. The band struggles to drum up the prerequisite gravitas for some of the slower material, although closer Luminescence does have a certain soul-baring charm (not to mention some alarmingly frank cocaine references).
While no longer the carefree creatures of their early records, Mystery Jets sound as bracingly hit-and-miss as they’ve ever done on Radlands, and for that much alone we can be thankful.
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