Mystery Jets are in a difficult position right now. As are many of the bands who found themselves hyped to the hills back in 2005 and 2006. Their debut, ‘Making Dens’, wound its way into the hearts of an already-devoted fanbase but failed to impress on a wider scale. Now, there’s even more at stake: Good Shoes and Larrikin Love, their Eel Pie Island party-peers, are floundering or have fallen while Jamie T is the ‘scene’’s only certifiable success. Mystery Jets have to compete on another level now they’re at the second album stage. Unable to get away with a record as messy as their debut, they don’t have the charm of naïvety as an excuse.
‘Twenty One’, a titular and literal coming-of-age, has got to deliver.
From the off, it sounds like the band certainly appreciate that sense of urgency. We begin with Public Enemy-style sirens, before filthy synths, for which you can probably thank producer Erol Alkan, launch ‘Hideaway’, which shines with renewed vigour. Mystery Jets definitely mean business. ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’ and ‘Young Love’ are shamelessly radio-friendly pop songs and are all the better for it. Where its predecessor was ramshackle and at times indulgent, where they once refused to tenderly hold your hand through the difficult bits, ‘Twenty One’ shows that the band have had a serious rethink. This is straightforward, clean and focused. However there’s a pervading oddness that dominates the second half of the album and which becomes obvious after a few listens. The new Mystery Jets have their roots fixed in the ’80s – and in the brash, over-the-top pop of the ’80s, to boot. Duran Duran, ABC and The Cars are smeared all over the place. ‘Two Doors Down’ is, by singer Blaine’s own admission, inspired by “really glossy ’80s production” and Phil Collins; nevertheless, at this juncture it’s a shock to see them embracing it so completely. The similar ‘MJ’ clearly has the King Of Pop and Quincy Jones in mind, but it’s all too easy to imagine a topless Sting funky-bassing his way through it all. Then, when you think you’ve got your head around that dizzying change of direction, ‘First To Know’ and ‘Behind The Bunhouse’ round off the album by taking you right back to what you loved about Mystery Jets’ sound in the first place.
But have Mystery Jets done enough to make people sit up and take enough notice to listen again? They’ve upset people’s expectations and made a handful of very good pop songs, but ‘Twenty One’ ultimately just proves that they’re as unpredictable as they ever were.