Mystery Jets: Making Dens

There’s more to Eel Pie Island’s noisiest residents than weirdness, y’know

First, the blurb; if Mystery Jets didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be psychotropic substances strong enough for anyone to invent them. Hailing from Eel Pie Island, a ghostly landmass that time forgot and a former haunt to names as illustrious and long-dead as Henry VIII and Charles Dickens is off-kilter enough, but that’s not nearly the half of it. Not when you take into consideration the fact that their cards have been marked by the long arm of the Eel Pie law for continually pissing off the island’s 120 inhabitants with their now-legendary riotous gatherings at the boathouse where they rehearse. Or, for that matter, that they look like a rag-tag band of villainous tinkers from an old episode of Scooby Doo, think nothing of bursting into perfectly-harmonised four-part Gregorian chants and were weaned from an early age on the belief that all records made after 1975 are inherently evil. More intriguing still, in an age where describing a band as ‘prog-rock’ is regarded as an insult on a par with calling their mothers cock-munching concubines of the behooved one himself, Mystery Jets actually revel in the improbable time-changes and illimitable guitar solos of terminally uncool bands like King Crimson and Yes. It’s also probably worth mentioning at this point, in the extremely unlikely event that you’re completely unaware of it, that their frontman’s 55-year-old father is also

the rhythm guitarist.

All of which should add up to Mystery Jets being the least-likely heirs to the non-existent crown of ‘The Future Of British Music’ we’ve seen in many a long year. Except somehow, it all works. Right down to the Gregorian chanting. This is probably because there’s nothing enforced about Mystery Jets’ oddness; they’re quite simply just that way inclined. And when all panderings to convention go out the window, imagination runs riot to wonderful effect. They acknowledge this themselves on the album’s first line: “You can do anything you want/As long as it makes sense”, sings Blaine Harrison self-mockingly, a deft nod to the fact that writing a whimsical tale about cats befriending mice on “Balmy summer days” and naming it ‘You Can’t Fool Me, Dennis’ is about as nonsensical as it gets. Yet ‘Making Dens’ never falls into the trap of getting lost in its own private universe; in fact, unlikely though it may sound, at its core it’s an oddly accessible pop album. Take ‘Purple Prose’: it’s a spiraling, Dexys-esque tour de force of escalating harmonies and nagging melodies that’s more punk-funk than wizard’s-sleeve, and the last thing you would expect from a band who were once described as “like being fed to the Kraken from Clash Of The Titans” (© A journalist with better drugs than me).

Similarly, they venture into the indie disco-friendly realms of space-rock with first single ‘Zoo Time’, doffing their crash helmets on the way to Can, Einstürzende Neubauten and Pink Floyd’s ‘Astronomy Domine’, before weirding us out with the eerily haunting hospital tales of ‘Little Bag Of Hair’, possibly inspired by Blaine’s suffering of spina bifida (a spinal defect that means he has to use crutches to get around), possibly not. “I used to have a little bag of hair and wish it was my head”, he coos over a slow-burning waltz. “My dad would bring me Airfix fighters, the glue would get all over them/At my fingertips, enough morphine to put me in a death”.

It’s ‘Alas Agnes’ that’s the clincher, though. Sounding a bit like Shane MacGowan picking the crumbs out of Merlin’s beard on some seriously good speed (if you will), it gallops along at a frantic pace, each member seemingly more eager than the last to get down to some Gregorian chant action. Prog-rock? Nothing on ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ sounded this urgent.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from ‘Making Dens’, it’s that there’s nothing to be feared from pushing the pop envelope that little bit further. If you expected the sands of time to shift between guitar solos, you’ll be pleasantly surprised; if you expected a ramshackle, half-baked melting pot that was weird for weird’s sake, you’d be flat-out wrong. Indeed, if there’s a recurring niggle with this album, it’s that it raises more questions than it answers; where in the name of Great Odin’s raven are Mystery Jets going to go from here?

Barry Nicolson

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