It seems that Mystery Jets have hit upon a formula for making their albums distinct in the wake of their disappointing 2010 release Serotonin. They had attempted to polish their successful Twenty-One sound (including hit song Two Doors Down), but the album just came out sounding complacent and cynical. Their answer was to write Radlands, which took inspiration for Americana, and whilst it was deeply, deeply silly (and more than a bit reminiscent of The Killers’ Sam’s Town), it was lots of fun, with bopping rhythms and catchy melodies. As such, they’ve decided to infuse their sound with a new influence for Curve of the Earth, and according to their pre-release interviews, that influence is Pink Floyd.
The cover artwork could almost be an homage to Dark Side of the Moon. The lyrics have Roger Waters matched for pretentiousness, with lead single Telomere apparently being about caps on DNA that connect people throughout generations. However, the sound is very distinctly neither that of Pink Floyd, or the sound Mystery Jets have embodied up until now. The most notable sonic differences between this album and their previous work are the dramatically slower tempos, and the self-aware “epicness” of the whole thing. That sweeping grandiosity emblematic of Pink Floyd seems to be the quality of theirs Mystery Jets are most trying to imitate, and whilst they create that atmosphere effectively, it’s the only one here and it drags after 9 tracks.
Telomere is actually a good sign of the album’s best qualities, with its lyrics creating intrigue and giving some gravitas to the sweeping arrangement. Synthesizers imitate orchestral flourishes, vibrating in the background of a series of simple piano chords. The vocal melody constantly escalates, and the tension is always rising. Whilst the song is certainly more dour than suits the band, it’s an interesting exploration of the sound they’ve chosen here. Unfortunately the next track – Bombay Blue – turns that on its head, with a much lighter sound based around overly-polished acoustic strumming that builds to an ostentatious guitar solo. The melodies are overly saccharine, resembling Chris Martin’s vocal tics more than anything else.
The rest of the album continues largely in this way, often following up a promising track with a disappointing one. Bubblegum has a wonderfully catchy synth hook and a fun “us vs. them” mentality that climaxes in the half-time chorus. Blood Red Balloon is overly portentous whilst lacking a memorable tune, until a coda based around a synth arpeggio rescues the song. There’s some thrilling moments here, but one has to wade through a lot of unearned bombast to get to them. Luckily the songs are all conceptually interesting, eschewing typical rock song fare for more philosophical and introspective topics. The aforementioned Telomere is matched by evocative nostalgia on Taken By the Tide, and a rumination on astrology on 1985. Whilst occasionally clumsy, the poetry is never bland, something the instrumentation sometimes is.
Curve of the Earth is an admirable attempt to bridge older sounds with newer production and ambitious themes, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The sounds are always slightly over-produced, sounding too polished to be personal. Unfortunately this means that more often than not, the album sounds like numerous other bands who aim for grandiose sounds with little to give them depth. Whilst sonically there isn’t much beyond imitation, the lyrical themes are dense and interesting, and go a long way to justifying the scale of the sound. Hopefully for their next album Mystery Jets will get back the sense of adrenaline and fun that made their previous work so strong, but melding it with the more serious themes of this work wouldn’t go awry.