Blasting off (presumably via the Johnson Space Centre) from the more folk/country-ish Radlands out to the edge of the atmosphere, Mystery Jets have once again succeeded in adding to their own musical core a new style with Curve of the Earth.
The opening track, ‘Telomere’, opens with almost techno-styled electric guitar, calling forth the stars invisible on the album’s cover. As the track swells, the scope opens up to set the tone for the rest of the album. As in previous albums, we have crashing choruses, but this time they are infused with a very anti-gravity distortion of voices and the previously technical and regular guitars. If we continue the metaphor (and I intend to), ‘Telomere’ is where the album gains altitude and reaches orbital velocity.
Fitting, then, that we are faced immediately with the far more restrained and acoustic ‘Bombay Blue’ after the Earth falls away with the remnants of the previous track. Electric and acoustic are contrasted well, and the space age distortion is developed in the ever-soaring guitar solo.
But then something happens. Or rather, doesn’t. We leave orbit abruptly with ‘Bubblegum’ and are faced with a track that, while not unpleasant, offers nothing new to the album’s theme or even Mystery Jets’ own style. Harmonised singing and crashing choruses, a bit of guitar crunch… we’ve heard it all before, and as such the track lacks the depth and interest that the album’s more atmospheric openers brought forward.
Thankfully we are offered respite with the excellent ‘Midnight Mirror,’ which regains the extra-atmospheric tone to some extent with thick vocalisation and an excellent guitar part. Chord progressions too are well-handled, and add to a (pleasing) sense of mild disorientation that’s familiar to even the most casual Pink Floyd fan. Thankfully, ‘Midnight Mirror’ effectively cancels any wobble that ‘Bubblegum’ might have introduced into the album, as well as cementing the styles of subsequent tracks.
‘1985’ calms us in a similar fashion to ‘Bombay Blue,’ but in a far darker, more introspective way. Then we are rocketed off into deep space with the sweeping ‘Blood Red Balloon,’ which hits that sweet spot of allowing itself enough repetition and atmosphere without being self-indulgent.
Our descent back to Earth is heralded by ‘Taken By The Tide,’ which almost-but-not-quite makes up for the sub-par chorus line with dramatic, tumbling instrumentation and a rather funereal ending. Once again, though, it suffers like ‘Bubblegum’ from failing to find much new in the enormous sea of indie tracks with which we are now faced. So too with ‘Saturnine’ and ‘The End Up,’ which do an admirable job at matching the weird vocal backing and oscillating synth of earlier tracks but can’t quite seem to shake off the conventions of the genre. These last three can’t quite be called unpleasant, but they certainly fail to live up to what is a very strong opening.
Curve of the Earth certainly succeeds in the first half, and on balance maintains a reasonably consistent tone. While the closing tracks aren’t quite a Space Shuttle Colombia-level disaster, the opportunity for a truly blazing re-entry is sorely missed.
Listen: ‘Telomere’ by Mystery Jets