There’s a point on Radlands where Mystery Jets sing: “We’re as much a mystery to ourselves/ As anyone else.” It’s a self-inflicted identity crisis that would inevitably occur at some point, simply due to the nature of music they make. After three albums that have stuck to a sound that is highly susceptible to the law of diminishing returns, Mystery Jets’ attempt at a reinvention finds the band confused and unfocused. Despite their feeble attempt at a makeover, Mystery Jets have nothing to offer on Radlands that is worth getting excited over.
The biggest problem with Radlands is one that has plagued Mystery Jets for some time. The lyrics range from passable to insipid, and clichés run amok. “Greatest Hits” is mildly clever, with Blaine Harrison rattling off a laundry list of his favourite musicians and albums. You can’t fault him for his taste; he gives a tip of his hat to Neutral Milk Hotel, Talking Heads and Minutemen, among others, while questioning why the hell anyone is still listening to The Fall. It’s a fun and bouncy bit of pop, but amidst all the namedropping there is precious little room for original content. “Sister Everett” spoils a perfectly serviceable hook with lines like “You were so good to know but hard to get/ Walk on water but you still get wet.” You half expect Harrison to whip out “Roses are red/ Violets are blue.”
Mystery Jets recorded Radlands in Texas, and it has undoubtedly influenced the album’s production. There are numerous songs where they pay direct homage to the state. “Lonestar” borders on inspired, with plucky instrumentation and shape-shifting guitars that provide a comfy respite from what’s to come. “Lost in Austin” is a heartfelt but overlong tribute to the capital. “Luminescence” has a healthy dose of southern twang, but also wears out its welcome in fairly short order.
There are also several songs that immediately bring to mind the work of other, better artists. “Savoir” is “Magic Carpet Ride” pressed through a modern pop filter, while the opening riff on the title track instantly brought to mind Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong.” Both of these comparisons are ones that Mystery Jets would do well to avoid in the future.
The foundation of Mystery Jets’ sound is cracking, and the band is squabbling over what colour their exterior’s new coat of paint should be. It would be easy to argue that I am being overly harsh here, but I expect a little more from lyrics than hackneyed platitudes and rhyme schemes that you can hear coming before the words are even sung. If Radlands happens does happen to appeal to you, it’s likely to be on a superficial level, where the carefree vibes are strong enough that you can tune out what the band is actually saying. For everyone else, the predictable melodic twists and some truly awful lyrics will likely prove too much to endure.