Mystery Jets - Making Dens

Bill Cummings 06/03/2006

Rating: 3/5

I really wanted to love this album because, on the two occasions I've seen them live, the Mystery Jets have been an exciting, tuneful, inventive and a wide-eyed musical experience. Indeed, the singles that preceded this album led me to believe that this long player would be similarly exciting.

But there's something missing here. Let me explain: live, this family band (christ even lead singer Blaine's dad plays guitar in the band) of hippies from Eeel Pie island had an insatiable energy, twisting up the kind of early psychedelia that inspired the best of the Coral, The Beta Band and early Pink Floyd and imbuing it all with a modern sense of rhythmic and percussive purposefulness that meant that although they were quite unique, they could quite happily be placed alongside the current trendy art rockers Bloc Party et al on the MTV2 playlist.

The album starts so well. Beyond the intro, there is the brilliant double salvo of “You Can't fool Me Dennis”, all joyous vocals, hungry drums and tricky guitar lines, and “Purple Prose” with its slightly proggy pop '70s breakdowns and excellent four part harmonies about globetrotting. But the problems begin with “Soluble Air”, a flighty slice of balladry, which lacks the real punch of the faster songs. A tale of woe, it sounds like the kind of track you could find on any dodgy scratched 70s folk album in your dad's loft. “The Boy Who Ran Away”, meanwhile, just seems to be a rehash of the singles that preceded the album, all in-your-face barbershop melodies, and a fairly predictable crescendo of instrumentals, while “Horse Drawn Cart” suffers from a slightly clichéd folksy, hippy drippy philosophy that many of the slower tracks here do, the slightly trite chorus lines of “emotion pulls you like a horse drawn cart” are sung passionately by Blaine, but as they trundle along start to resemble some kind of ridiculous pastiche of a medieval film score. Better is the ode to childhood, “Little Bag Of Hair” which ironically sounds nothing like any of their previous slower tracks and resembles a slice of Blur- style melancholia, its lyrics “Let's play nurses and doctors until the real nurses and doctors come", tapping into the sense of escapism that pervades this disc.

The scfi fi rock prog of “Zoo Time” is an extended version of their set opening music, its enjoyable, wizzy synths, rhythmic percussion and that demented refrain of “Zoo time! Zoo time!” gives it a sound like the soundtrack to a bad acid trip or a journey into the world of the Mighty Boosh. Sadly on repeated listens this sounds like novelty rather than genius.

Clearly the best moment here is previous single “Alas Agnes”, which tells the tale of unrequited love between a young protagonist and Agnes, a stunning transvestite sat in the back streets of Kings Cross. In order to win Agnes's heart he takes the drastic step of a sex change only to return and find Agnes has already fallen for a younger, prettier muse. Musically it's a marvellous tragic comedy: building deliciously with Showtime, barbershop vocal precision, expressive percussion and pianos, a riot of melodious brilliance. It's simply great to listen to.

The Mystery Jets have a lot of talent, on times a way with words and a real thirst for making jubilant, inventive music, all of which should be lauded. But this debut long player simply doesn't translate all of this from the stage and onto a focussed record. Yes there are three or four standout moments, but there's too much lacking in the production and songwriting, too much promise unfulfilled to make this anything other than a disappointment. Maybe next time, eh Mystery Jets?