For the past decade, Mystery Jets have proven expert imitators, churning out quirky approximations of The Cars, Radiohead and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. But the UK quartet upped the derivative ante with 2012’s Radlands, a semi-concept LP—featuring characters named Emmerson Lonestar and Sister Everett—which they crafted in a Texas rental house to breathe in that genu-wine Yankee dust. Overall, an awkward (if charming) digression that landed closer to parody than pastiche.
Written and recorded back in London, Curve of the Earth, the band’s sixth album, is an overt corrective—a return to their British sensibilities. Problem is, they’ve sought out some of the most generic reference points imaginable: Frontman Blaine Harrison’s half-mumbled vocal phrasing on dream-pop ditty “Saturnine” feels like Damon Albarn karaoke; though “Midnight’s Mirror” opens in a pulsating Tangerine Dream synth-scape, the chorus gives way to sub-Coldplay stargazing circa X&Y.
The slower the tempo, the heavier the awkward Chris Martin influence: “1985” is the low point on Curve of the Earth, its naked piano arrangement exposing cringe-worthy lyrics: “For the first time in my life, a space has opened up between tomorrow and tonight,” Harrison flutters, his gaze on the heavens. “Saturn will return us back to 1985, when we was just a spark in star-crossed lovers’ eyes.”
Ballads continuously kill the vibe, and Mystery Jets save the biggest buzzkill for last: Closer “The End Up” pipes in some of Radlands’ lingering folk strum, with Harrison playing the role of a wide-eyed child (or weirdly childlike adult): “How we end up with who we end up / Is it just a question of luck?” he sings, as synths throb in the distance. “Won’t it be strange to see how we change / when we’re all grown up?”
Luckily, when they rev up and cut the cute, Mystery Jets remain a first-rate psychedelic band. “Blood Red Ballon” borrows a lumbering Dark Side gait, stretching out to nearly seven minutes with withered synthesizers. The expansive arrangement of “Saturnine” is part “Great Gig in the Sky,” part “Comfortably Numb,” climaxing with a bluesy, David Gilmour-styled guitar solo. Occasionally, the quartet even seem like they’re having fun: “Bubblegum” shifts toward the dynamic heartland-rock they teased on Radlands, highlighted by a sputtering synth lead.
Curve of the Earth isn’t a complete rebound—there are too many fumbles, too many eye-rolls. But in its fits of brilliance, Mystery Jets reclaim their throne as rock’s savviest copycats.